Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After the Tropical Belt Coal Company goes into liquidation, Axel Heyst continues to live at the No. 1 coaling station on Samburan. Strange in his manners and desires, he is a legend among the islanders; they call him a Utopist. The coal company came into existence after Heyst met an Englishman named Morrison in a Portuguese seaport, where the man was about to lose his trading ship, Capricorn, because of an unpaid debt. Heyst was sympathetic and offered him a loan. Because Heyst was anxious to keep his generosity a secret and Morrison eager to conceal his shaky finances, the two men pledged secrecy, with the understanding that Heyst would thereafter have a share of the Capricorn’s shipping business.
Schomberg, the owner of a hotel in Sourabaya, heard of the partnership and discovered that Heyst maintained some kind of hold over Morrison. Morrison established the coal company and then died in England. After that, Schomberg, who hated Heyst, constructed a mysterious kind of villainy around him and was gleeful when the coal company liquidated.
After Heyst retires from the human society of the islands, Davidson, a ship’s captain, comes upon him living alone on Samburan. Worrying over Heyst’s welfare, Davidson adopts the habit of sailing ten miles out of his way around the north side of Samburan in case Heyst is in need of aid. At one point, Davidson brings Heyst to Sourabaya, where he stays at Schomberg’s hotel. Later, Davidson hears bits of a story that Heyst ran off with a girl who was at the hotel with a troupe of entertainers. He is baffled that the shy, quiet Heyst would take a girl back to Samburan with him. Mrs. Schomberg pities the girl and helps Heyst escape with her. The affair causes quite a bit of gossip on the island because it concerns Heyst.
When Heyst came to the hotel, he was unaware of Schomberg’s hatred. The entertainers were not very attractive to Heyst’s fastidious mind, but one girl wearing white muslin seemed younger than the others. Noticing her distress at being ordered to join a guest at a table, Heyst was prompted by the same instinct that led him to help Morrison. He invited the girl to sit with him. The girl, Lena, told Heyst about herself. While she was growing up in England, her father taught her to play the violin. After his death, she joined the group of entertainers with whom she now worked. Schomberg had been stalking her ever since the troupe came to the hotel. The contrast between Heyst and the other men she met was enough to cause the girl to be attracted to her new friend, and she welcomed his promise of help. After Heyst took Lena away, Schomberg’s hatred was tremendous.
Three strangers then come to Schomberg’s hotel: Mr. Jones, Martin Ricardo, and a beastlike, hairy creature whom they call Pedro. Before long, these men transform Schomberg’s hotel into a professional gambling house. Schomberg’s obsession for Lena is increased by his belief that, if he has her at his side, he can rid...
(The entire section is 1225 words.)
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Axel Heyst, a Swedish baron, leaves home at his philosopher father’s death and travels among the islands of Indonesia for several years. On one of the islands he encounters Morrison, who is also doing business in the area. Morrison is in desperate straits, having been fined and deprived of his boat. When Heyst gives him the money to pay the fine, Morrison views him as an answer to prayer. He and Heyst go into business together and trade among the different native settlements. Morrison intends to start a coal company in Indonesia and returns to England to arrange the business matters. He dies there, but the company commences and Heyst is made the manager. Eventually the business goes bankrupt, but Heyst refuses to leave the region.
Schomberg, a German hotel owner, despises Heyst; the other Europeans in the area are simply mystified by him. Davidson, the captain of one of the many trading boats, is impressed with Heyst and regularly goes by the island of Samburan, where Heyst has made his home. He brings Heyst to Sourabaya (where Schomberg has his hotel) to conduct some business matters. Everyone is surprised that Heyst intends to remain on Samburan when there is no more coal being mined there.
When Davidson returns to pick up Heyst, he goes to Schomberg’s hotel to meet him. No one is present but Mrs. Schomberg, who seems like a wooden statue to Davidson. She informs him that Heyst has left with one of the English girls from Zangiacomo’s all-female orchestra. Davidson is shocked that Heyst, who seems to be a gentleman, should do such a thing, but he reasons that perhaps it is more of a rescue than an elopement. Still, the fact that a gentleman is on a deserted island with a young girl has serious implications. Schomberg and Zangiacomo had fallen into a furious argument but eventually they joined forces to search for Heyst and the girl.
Sometime later, Davidson passes by Samburan and Heyst flags him down. Davidson learns that Heyst is adequately supplied and wants Davidson to return Mrs. Schomberg’s shawl to her in case Mr. Schomberg should notice that it is missing. Davidson returns the shawl and is impressed with how coolly Mrs. Schomberg handles the situation. He believes that Mr. Schomberg is running an illegal gambling operation and is puzzled as to why he would risk it.
When Heyst goes to Schomberg’s hotel with Davidson, he comes to the conclusion that life was meaningless. He feels guilty about Morrison’s death. He goes to the concert hall to listen to the all-female orchestra although he views their playing as a “murdering of the silence.” As their set finishes, the ladies leave the stage to mingle with the audience. Heyst notices one girl who is reluctant and is forced to leave the stage by the orchestra leader’s wife. Heyst feels the same pity for her that he felt for Morrison, so he invites her to sit with him. He learns that she is English and has a wonderful voice. She is grateful for his kindness. Over the next few days, Heyst learns that her name is Alma or Magdalena and that she grew up in poverty. Schomberg has been coming on to her, as have other men in the past. Heyst tells her that he is not rich enough to buy out her employment, but he can “steal” her as soon as he makes some arrangements. Schomberg is upset when he discovers that Heyst has left with the girl.
Three other guests arrive at the hotel: Mr. Jones and Ricardo, as well as their servant, Pedro. Jones introduces himself as a tourist but admits he has been called harsher names. Schomberg would like to get rid of them, but they eventually threaten him into letting them run a gambling operation from his hotel. When Ricardo tells Schomberg of their shady past, Schomberg more desperately wants...
(The entire section is 1559 words.)