The monopoly of O Lalala was no more. Atuona Valley had turned back the clock of time a hundred years, to destroy the perfect world in which he sat alone. He heard the news with amazement and consternation. For a day he sat disconsolate, unable to credit the disaster that had befallen his carefully made plans. Then he offered the matches at usual traders’ prices, and the people mocked him. All over the island the fire-ploughs, oldest of fire-making tools in the world, were being driven to heat the stones for the mei. Atuona had no need of matches.
The governor on his return heard the roars of derision, gathered the story from a score of mirthful tongues, seized and sold the matches, and appropriated the funds for a barrel of Bordeaux. And for many weeks the unhappy O Lalala sat mournfully on the beach, gazing at the empty sea and longing for a schooner to carry him away.
The Jeanne d’Arc, a beautiful, long, curving craft manned by twelve oarsmen, came like a white bird over the blue waters of the Bay of Traitors one Saturday afternoon, bringing Pere Victorien to Atuona. He was from Hatiheu, on the island of Nuka-hiva, seventy miles to the north. A day and a night he had spent on the open sea, making a slow voyage by wind and oar, but like all these priests he made nothing of the hardships. They come to the islands to stay until they die, and death means a crown the brighter for martyrdom.
He looked a tortured man in his heavy and smothering vestments when I met him before the mission walls next morning. His face and hands were covered with pustules as if from smallpox.
“The nonos (sand-flies) are so furious the last month,” he said with a patient smile. “I have not slept but an hour at a time. I was afraid I would go mad.”
News of his coming brought all the valley Catholics to eight o’clock mass. The banana-shaded road and the roots of the old banian were crowded with worshippers in all their finery, and when they poured into the mission the few rude benches were well filled. I found a chair in the rear, next to that of Baufre, the shaggy drunkard, and as the chanting began, I observed an empty prie-dieu, specially prepared and placed for some person of importance.
“Mademoiselle N——” said Baufre, noticing the direction of my glance. “She is the richest woman in all the Marquesas.”
At the Gospel she came in, walking slowly down the aisle and taking her place as though unaware of the hundred covert glances that followed her. Wealth is comparative, and Mademoiselle N——, with perhaps a few hundred thousand dollars in cash and cocoanut-grove, stood to the island people as Rockefeller to us. Money and lands were not all her possessions, for though she had never traveled from her birthplace, she was very different in carriage and costume from the girls about her.