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When Madge Alden was seventeen years of age an event occurred which promised to be the misfortune of her life. At first she was almost overwhelmed and knew not what to do. She was but a young and inexperienced girl, and for a year or more had been regarded as an invalid.
Madge Alden was an orphan. Four years prior to the opening of our story she had lost her mother, her surviving parent, and since had resided with her elder sister Mary, who was several years her senior, and had married Henry Muir, a merchant of New York City. This gentleman had cordially united with his wife in offering Madge a home, and his manner toward the young girl, as far as his absorbed and busy life permitted, had been almost paternal. He was a quiet, reticent man, who had apparently concentrated every faculty of soul and body on the problem of commercial success. Trained to business from boyhood, he had allowed it to become his life, and he took it very seriously. It was to him an absorbing gamehis vocation, and not a means to some ulterior end. He had already accumulated enough to maintain his family in affluence, but he no more thought of retiring from trade than would a veteran whist-player wish to throw up a handful of winning cards. The events of the world, the fluctuations in prices, over which he had no control, brought to his endeavor the elements of chance, and it was his mission to pit against these uncertainties untiring industry and such skill and foresight as he possessed.
His domestic life was favorable to his ruling passion. Mary Alden, at the time of her marriage, was a quiet girl, whose early life had been shadowed by sorrow. She had seen her father pass away in his prime, and her mother become in consequence a sad and failing woman. The young girl rallied from these early years of depression into cheerfulness, and thoroughly enjoyed what some might regard as a monotonous life; but she never developed any taste for the diversions of society. Thus it may be surmised that Mr. Muir encountered no distractions after business hours. He ever found a good dinner awaiting him, and his wife held herself in readiness to do what he wished during the evening, so far as the claims of the children permitted. Therefore there were few more contented men in the city than he, and the name of Henry Muir had become a synonym among his acquaintances for methodical business habits.