It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man on the run from his kin must be in want of a couple of wives.
“My dear Mr Laban,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that the shepherd shed is let at last?”
Mr Laban made no answer. This was encouragement enough for Mrs Laban to inform him that a young man of large fortune from the region of Canaan had come up last week to see the shed and had been so much delighted with it that he was to take possession of it before Sukkot or sooner still, as he was on the run and therefore eager to settle in Padan Aram without delay.
“What is his name?” asked Mr Laban.
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune! What a fine thing for our two girls!”
“How so? how can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr Laban,” cried his wife impatiently, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of him marrying at least one of them!”
Mr Laban was the first who waited on Jacob. As the owner of the shepherd shed and a relative of Jacob, he had always intended to visit the young man, though to the last assuring his wife and daughters that he should not go. Only after the visit did he tell them of it and of the ball that Jacob had promised to host in his honour. The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished.
“What an excellent father you have, girls,” said Mrs Laban, when her husband had left the drawing room for his scrolls and his wine, “I do not know how you will ever make amends for his kindness. At our time of life, it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day; but for your sakes, we would do anything. Rachel, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Jacob will dance with you at the ball!”
“Oh!” said Rachel stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest I have sparkle in my eye, and a lovely figure.”
At the ball Jacob soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved. He danced every dance, asking the younger of the Laban daughters to stand up with him twice!
Leah Laban had been obliged, by the scarcety of gentlemen, to sit down for a few dances; and during that time she overheard Jacob commenting on her appearance to another of the young men in the room:
“In truth,” Jacob said, “I have been dancing with the only pretty girl in the room. Even her sister is only tolerable. She is certainly not handsome enough to tempt me, and I am in no mood to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”
Jacob then walked off; and Leah remained with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.
The next day Jacob paid the Laban family a visit. Joining Mr Laban in the library after dinner, he told him how his love for Rachel had grown over the course of the last many hours.
“I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter,” he vowed.
Mr Laban agreed immediately. Confiding in his older daughter, Leah, he admitted that Jacob was the kind of man to whom he should not dare refuse anything.
Rachel, also, could have no reserves from Leah; upon hearing the news of her engagement from her father, she instantly embraced her older sister and acknowledged with the liveliest emotion that she was the happiest creature in the world. She confessed herself surprised, though, that Jacob had not found Leah handsome enough to dance with.
“There must be some explanation,” she cried. “Oh, Leah! Had I not had the chance to converse with him while dancing, I too should have thought him both conceited and proud. Now I know however that I am the luckiest woman alive and I am certain that you too will one day feel as happy as me.”
“All the world is good and agreeable in your eyes,” said Leah and went to feed the cattle.
After seven years Jacob went once again to Mr Laban and asked for Rachel’s hand, reminding him with much feeling that his time of service was now complete. Mr Laban acquiesced, but called upon his older daughter later in the day and told her that he intended her to marry Jacob instead.
These news threw Leah into a flutter of spirits, in which it was difficult to determine whether pleasure or pain bore the greatest share. She was eager to obey her father whom she loved. For herself she was resigned; for her sister she was worried. She knew that her father’s plan could not go long undetected and she feared the reaction of Jacob, whom she had found to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man.
As he removed Leah’s veil after the wedding and discovered Laban’s deception, Jacob fell silent. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up again walked about the room. After several minutes he came towards Leah in an agitated manner and thus began,
“Propriety and decency forbid me to abandon you, and I will not. With my heart however I struggle in vain. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love your sister.”
For a long time Jacob spoke to Leah about his feelings for Rachel. Then without warning he fell silent once again. When he finally resumed, it was with a liveliness of manner that Leah had never before seen in him.
“You may assure yourself, wife, that I have now found a solution! I shall marry your sister also!”
If Leah had been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heart-felt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen.
“I will offer your father another seven years of service,” Jacob told her, “and then you shall both be my wives. Though I do not love you, you may still bear me sons. This teaches me to hope as I have never dared hope before!”
Leah soon opened her heart to Rachel and told her that Jacob wished to marry her too and that their father had agreed that same afternoon. Rachel objected that such a happy outcome was not possible.
“It is settled already,” Leah replied, impressing upon her sister how little choice either of them had in the matter.
“Then I am quite content,” Rachel said, “for you will be as happy as myself. Jacob will love me, and I him, and you will be there too! Oh, this is too much joy for one person!”
Jacob and Rachel married without delay and all three of them moved into the shepherd shed. In addition to every other source of happiness, Rachel and Leah were now always within 50 feet of each other. Jacob’s skills as a shepherd were praised throughout Padan Aram and year by year he continued adding to his wealth.