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A pair of commoners takes an Executive Mansion tour with a royal and Roxane Gilmore.

Howdy, Duke!

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"We're here to see the duke," we said. "And the first lady."

The officer standing outside the governor's mansion guardhouse blinked again in the sunshine.

"The duke?" he inquired weakly.

"That's right, the Duke of Richmond. Mrs. Gilmore is giving him a tour of the renovations and we were invited." We passed him the paper that said so.

He blinked. Reluctantly he took it and read: "MEDIA ADVISORY: First Lady Roxane Gilmore to Host England's Duke of Richmond."

He looked up at us, blinking, then returned to the page: "First Lady Roxane Gilmore will host Charles Henry Gordon Lennox, the 10th Duke of Richmond, today at 4 p.m. at Executive Mansion for a tour of the mansion renovations. The Duke, who has been president of the British Horse Society, attended the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs last weekend."

Slowly, as though some elaborate hoax were being perpetrated, he handed it back over the little wall separating us, then went into the guardhouse and picked up the phone. Moments later, the gate opened ceremoniously and smiling he waved us on toward the great house.

We really were going to meet the duke!

Hastily we recollected the little we knew of him. The duke was big on horses. His estate in England, called Goodwood, had a track. His house was undergoing extensive renovations led by his eldest son, a Lord March somebody. On a historical note, some of his forefather dukes had been in favor of granting the Colonies independence.

He would be friendly, and we would call him "sir." Oh, it was very fine to be meeting him!

We knocked conscientiously on the front door, then stepped back, polite smiles ready. But then suddenly, horribly, we realized: We were not dressed to see the duke.

We wore khakis and jeans and heavy shirts. Our shoes were brown. Perhaps there was mud on our hands and faces. We felt thick and coarse and lumpen and all those peasant things.

We were going to disgrace Richmond and Virginia and Mrs. Gilmore and the United States. We were commoners come to gawk at all the pretty people — barbarians at the gate. The duke would be horrified and Mrs. Gilmore would faint. Arrest was imminent.

"We'll say we've been out in the countryside," we agreed, as if that would magically, charmingly make everything fine and sensical. "Traipsing in the countryside."

Then it happened. The door opened and just inside stood the duke, his back to us, as Mrs. Gilmore explained something about the foyer to him. One of her assistants regarded us intently as the door was shut behind and we moved a little to the side, so as not to be standing directly behind the duke.

He was a fine old duke - that was apparent at once. A good gray pinstripe suit covered his thin, slightly hunched frame. Noble gray hair gently covered his head in gentle waves. His form and posture and movements seemed to wear their propriety lightly.

Shoes: black.

He was nodding and making pleasant noises to Mrs. Gilmore as she spoke. Pausing she looked over at us, and the duke did the same.

Mrs. Gilmore was very good: The duke was introduced; we were explained.

"Hello," he said brightly to both of us, and his kindly eyes met ours as he shook our hands.

He was friendly, and we called him "sir."

His expression resulted from his face, and his face was the essence of charity. Any woman over 25 would have fallen instantly in love; we were absolved so thoroughly it was as though we had never sinned.

We kept a discreet, interested distance as Mrs. Gilmore led him on a tour of the first floor. The house seemed fine, but finer with the duke in it. We took notes and photographs knowing we were doing so probably only for show. In the end we sat with them, asked polite questions of the duke and enjoyed his lively and direct responses. When Mrs. Gilmore stood up we made a graceful adieu.

We did not get tea. We did not

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