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Concha as well as O'Donnell had come back to her; and she had a stronger supporter than either of them in Narvaez—that dandy of blood and iron whom she had already pitted against Espartero once, and would not pit against him again. His grudge and his ambitions combined to make him a willing champion; and he was an unscrupulous champion, prepared to bribe as well as fight, and willing to ally himself with Radicals, in perfect confidence that he would live to dish them—corrupting soldiers and buying adherents for Cristina with the misappropriated contents of Ferdinand's strong-box.
Eighteen months passed, however, before the conspirators were ready to act; and .meanwhile Isabella was growing up as Espartero's ward.
Espartero as Isabella's guardian—Isabella asserts herself—The Catalina question—Washington Irving's account of the girlQueen—Renewal of Cristina's intrigues—Invasion of Spain on her behalf by Narvaez—Flight of Espartero to England.
Espartero's guardianship was strict—it could hardly be otherwise if Isabella's schoolroom was not to be a focus of intrigue. The strictness naturally gave offence to those who desired to foment intrigue; and tricks were as naturally resorted to for the purpose of circumventing the supervision. One hears of attempts to defeat the censorship of Isabella's correspondence by smuggling letters between the leaves of fashion papers with the connivance and help, as some said, of the French Embassy. One also hears, now and again, of a battle royal over the choice of the royal playmates and companions : the story, for instance, of Catalina—a young woman in the wardrobe department, for whom Isabella conceived a great affection.
Madame Mina dismissed Catalina—whether from jealousy, or from some other motive; and Isabella's attitude in the matter gives us our first clear glimpse at her self-willed character. She inquired for Catalina, who was accustomed to help her to dress, and frivolous pretexts were put forward to account for Catalina's absence. Isabella accepted the excuses once, and even twice; but then, as we read in Martin Haverty's Wanderings in Spain:
"On the following day, when the hour arrived to prepare for the usual drive to the royal gardens of the Buen Retire, her Majesty inquired in a peremptory tone for Catalina; and after some equivocation on the part of the governess, the order of the guardian, Sefior Arguelles, for the dismissal of that young person was produced. Isabel seized it in a rage, tore it into fragments, and having ordered that the guardian should be immediately desired to send for Catalina, she took her sister by the hand, as if she felt that she was the only friend she had left, and hastening into another room, closed the door, saying that neither she nor the Infanta would stir thence until her orders were obeyed. Catalina ,made her appearance soon after, and it was only then that the daughter of Ferdinand VII allowed a tear to escape, and uttered with sobs the name of her mother, who was far away."
It was her first attempt, so far as one knows, to assert her dignity. It reveals her as at once affectionate, impetuous, and obstinate. The Catalina question, as one may call it, was far more to her than the question, then agitating Spain, whether the French Ambassador's credentials should be delivered to her or to the Regent. The child was, in that respect, the mother of the woman, to whom the living of her own life in her own way and the selection of her friends to please herself was always to be more than any problem of either foreign or domestic politics. The only difference was that, whereas the grown woman would be able to do pretty much what she liked, the child was obliged, on the whole, to do what she was told.
She was told, among other things, to be present
at the opening of the Cortes, and to receive congratulatory deputations, on her birthday, from the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and the Corps diplomatique—she and her little sister together. The congratulations of the United States were presented by Washington Irving, in whose correspondence we find a picture of "a row of dignified diplomatic personages, some of them well stricken in years, and all of them sage representatives of Governments, bowing with a profound reverence, and conjuring up nothings to say to a couple of little girls." She was sufficiently self-possessed to tell him, "with a smile and a little flirt of her fan," that he spoke Spanish very well—which cannot have been quite true. He and his sister, in whom he confided, agreed that her position was no very enviable one :—
"You seem to pity the poor little Queen, shut up, with her sister, like two princesses in a fairy tale, in a great, grand, dreary palace, and 'wonder whether she would not like to change her situation for a nice little cottage on the Hudson.' Perhaps she would, Kate, if she knew anything of the gaieties of cottage life; if she had ever been with us at a picnic, or driven out in the shandry-dran, with the two roans, and James, in his slipshod hat, for a coachman, or yotted in the Dream, or sang in the Tarrytown choir, or shopped at Tommy Dean's; but, poor thing, she would not know how to set about enjoying herself. She would never think of appearing at church without a whole train of the Miss s
and the Miss s and the Miss s, as maids of
honour, nor drive through Sleepy Hollow except in a coach and six, with a cloud of dust and a troop of horsemen in glittering armour. So I think, Kate, we must be content with pitying her, and leaving her in ignorance of the comparative desolateness of her situation."
Assuredly her case called for pity—for other reasons besides those which Washington Irving gives. The political waters were stormy, and her position was as helpless and as little considered as that of the cork tossed on the surface of the waves. While her mother was intriguing in Paris, her aunt, Dona Carlota, was intriguing in Madrid. They were intriguing against each other, and also against Espartero—the three of them engaged, as it were, in a three-cornered duel. One of the letters smuggled to Isabella between the leaves of her fashion paper was Cristina's warning against Carlota: "Beware of that woman. Her words are lies; her presence is a peril."
That, it would seem, because the aunt was aspiring to the mother's place in Isabella's regard. She was a managing, pushing woman, tirelessly, not to say restlessly, energetic : the sort of woman who descends like a whirlwind upon any place to which she comes. The French Government, fearing that she would make trouble in Spain, made such attempts as it decently could to detain her at the frontier. She told the officials that they might stop her carriage if they liked, but that if they did she should get out and cross the border on foot; and then they let her pass. Arriving in Madrid, she tried to take charge of her niece on the strength of the ties of blood; and it was war between her and Countess Mina, who complained to Arguelles, who passed the complaint on to Espartero, who felt that he must put his foot down.