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 his hotel of the gamblers. One afternoon, Ricardo tells Schomberg that he was employed on a yacht where he was first attracted by Jones’s polished manners. The two stole the captain’s cash box and jumped ship. Later, Pedro became attached to them. Schomberg decides that these thieves might leave his hotel if he can arouse their greed by the prospect of richer plunder. He offhandedly tells the men of Heyst’s alleged wealth and mentions that Heyst lives on a lonely island with a girl and a hoard of money. Together, Ricardo and Schomberg begin to plan their pillage of the island on which Heyst lives.
On his island, Heyst lives with his Chinese servant, Wang, until Lena joins him. She tells him that he saved her from more than misery and despair. Heyst tells her the story of his own background. His father was a cynical, domineering man whom he disliked. After his death, Heyst drifts, searching for some meaning in life, a meaning never glimpsed until he meets Lena.
One evening, Wang announces that he...
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