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Bucking Fate

By Gordon Young

BILL HAYNES was broke, down and out, flat on his uppers, and a stranger to San Francisco. It was drizzling and cold. The wind lashed its wet whips from off the bay, and Haynes slouched hungrily by the fragrant doors of chowder houses and meditatively hankered for the kind of self-abasement that permits a fellow to brace a strange bartender for hot whisky.

"An empty stomach has no conscience—an empty stomach has no conscience," ran with devilish iteration through his head.

"Aw, the hell it hain't!" Bill Haynes muttered exasperated. And a lone, huddled little figure, neck drawn turtle-fashion into an upturned coat-collar, stopped for an instant and scrutinized the burly Haynes.

The little stranger wheeled and, his dark eyes sharply examining Haynes, came a step or two forward. He spoke, not disagreeably, and with a voice slightly foreign:

"I beeg your par-don. Were you speaking to me?"

Haynes straightened up and gave the stranger a hard, direct look. A little man he was, and his features could not be clearly distinguished under the low-drawn hat-brim, but Haynes was not particular about faces—just then. There was a faint friendliness in the voice, or rather a vague implication that friendliness might be induced.

The man who is busted, broken, down-and-out, who has bucked fate to a losing game, is warmed with hope at everything that looks like a new deal. The battle-cry of the Saxon, wanderer and fighter in strange places, that is, the inner battle-cry, is "Damn Fate!" There is nothing of Oriental fatality in him. He watches for his chance, then takes Fate by the forelock, takes matters into his own hands. Haynes liked to force Fate to a showdown, to take matters into his own hands—big, hard hands they were, too; and, as any savant of the Orient would have told him, he had no favor with the gods of Luck.

"I hadn't," said Haynes with a flickering of intonation that suggested that not all of his buffeting had knocked the sense of humor out of him. "But I prob'bly would've, if I'd thought it'd done any good."

"Just what do you mean by 'good'?" asked the stranger, smiling.

He had white teeth, long rows of white teeth. They came out from under his lips with surprising vividness in the shadows that still blurred his features.

"Well," said Haynes, not loudly, but with full- throated frankness, "I'm busted an' I'm not lazy."

The stranger came another step nearer and slightly cocked his head, while in silence he piercingly scrutinized Haynes' face.

William Haynes—alias, as the police would say, Bill Haynes—was a broad-chested fellow edging up into his thirties. He had a curiously beguiling air of frankness, accentuated by wide blue eyes and the firm well-molded features generally spoken of as "open." But Haynes was not an innocent, hardly. He knew more of the world and of certain of its least reputable people than any young man ought to know if he has hope of saving his reputation.

Haynes was just back from three years in the South Seas, where he had gone—had gone devil- driven by the sheer lust to go to some far place? with the idea of being a trader, only to discover that even a modest trader's outfit ran into the thousands. His resources had never run above a handful of dollars. He found, also, that trading companies did not put out men as agents without knowing more of them than Haynes could prove of himself.

His record was clear, he was reasonably honest—that is, not so honest as to object to giving a five-cent clay pipe to an overly trusting native for a five-dollar mat; but he had no way of proving himself acceptable to a trading company without a trial, and trading companies these days hesitate to give a stranger a trial until he has proved himself. So the circle of exclusion was drawn tight, and Haynes went out as a deck-hand, eventually joined up with a pearler, and had the pirate disappear with both wages and share.

One thing after another had knocked Haynes about. If the situation was hopeless, he would hunch his shoulders and whistle; if not, he would take matters into his own hands. He had come to San Francisco on a windjammer, but with no intentions of remaining there. However, the captain, also the owner, had sold out, and Haynes was set adrift. He got into a friendly poker game to idle an aftern...

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