Although he says he rather enjoys it, the Duke, you understand, is not a salesman - or at least, not a very pushy, aggressive one. The Duke is, after all, the Duke, great-great grandson of the original, the first, the one-and-only Duke of Wellington who trounced Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, thereby saving a grateful nation from a future of cuisine minceur and nouns of two genders.
Arthur Valerian Wellesly, the eight Duke of Wellington, is nonetheless supposed to be a promoter of sorts. Specifically he is supposed to be promoting something called the Wellington Collection, which contains limited replicas of objects from that bygone era; with these royalties the Duke hopes to build a museum dedicated to his great antecedent. The problem is the Duke isn't a real hardsell guy. The problem is the Duke chats with Arlene Francis on her radio show and among the things he is not mentioning at this moment is the Wellington Collection.
This, as you can well imagine, does not thrill Ronald Dias, who heads the company that is selling the collection.
"It's all very well to talk about his great-great grandfather," Dias is saying to everyone around him. "But if he doesn't talk about the collection, then with all the expense of getting him here, how the hell are we going to give him any royalties anyway?"
This goes more or less unanswered, except that someone asks, "Why aren't you over (at the station) with him?"
Dias shrugs. "I can't be everywhere at once."
The Duke of Wellington, on the other hand, must be precisely that during his week in this country. At ABC. At NBC, At a reception at the Knickerbocker Club and the Essex House: gracious, although Americans tend to stare at him as if he were a Bengal tiger; stiff-upper-lip-and-all-that, even though he is suffering from fatigue and a broken ankle induced by tripping over a bramble bush while he was chasing his dog, Napoleon.
"Napoleon," the Duke observes aridly but obviously, "has had his revenge."
He is a tall, lanky man of 61 and he looks like Trevor Howard playing a duke: all pink cheeks, fading blond hair and wry meager smiles, one of which drifts casually to his thin lips as he sits down, extending his wounded leg on the couch.
"I hope this doesn't offend you." He points to the cast. "Well, the thing is I haven't washed it for a month. Well, except for a little lick around the toes."
This dispensed with the Duke returns to one of his favorite subjects, which is his house, Statfield Saye, given to his heroic ancestory by a nation that once had money to spare for such niceties. The Duke calls it his house; others might call it a palace and it contains, among other things, a music room which the pamphlet the Duke proffers describes as "largely devoted to the memory of Copenhagen, the Duke's favorite charger, which he rode all day at the Battle of Waterloo.Copenhagen is buried in the grounds; details of his life are to be found on page 24 . . ."
"I think it's a very historical house," says the Duke who has already converted his stables into a museum which will display the uniform of Wellington as well as the tunic of Napoleon, purchased for $38,000. The Duke does not consider the display of Napoleon's tunic an impertinence.
"I think it's a mark of respect," he insists. "It's the only one in England, and he was going to wear it for his entry into Brussels which," he adds with a wintry smile, "was thwarted by my ancestor."
But duke-ing is not what it used to be. Consider, for instance, that the Duke now charges 80 pence admission to the people who care to see his home. "It helps offset the very considerable expense," he explains.
Momentarily, the Duke looks as if he will sign just a bit. He doesn't, of course - even though he has just been asked if it's fun being a duke.
"Being a duke is very burdensome," he says. "Someone from the BBC asked me that once - 'Has the fun gone out of being a duke?' And I said, 'I'm really like a chairman of a business.' I farm, myself, 2,600 acres there. And there's a lot of forestry - it's really like a national park, open to the public. I'm chairman of Stratfield Saye Estates Management Co. So one is constantly in a position of being asked to this, that, t'other. So I work very, very hard.
"But when my father died, we had two options. One to stay in our own relatively small house we'd lived in for 25 years. But I'm quite certain the big house would have disintegrated. So we took the decision we had to keep it going for the sake of the nation."
The Duke of Wellington, you see, feels this enormous - almost painful - sense of responsibility. That was why he left the army, which he liked very much, when his father was in his 80s "I felt it was time to take a bigger share of the responsibilities which one day I would have had to assume anyway," is how he expresses it.
That was after a 29-year career from which he retired as brigadier general. That was even though the military brought him together with Diana, his future wife, who is the daughter of a major general and was a staff sargeant in Jerusalem when he met her during the war. Their son, the Marquess of Douro, recently married Antonia von Preussen, who is a real princess, great-granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II and all that, but the Duke claims not to care about such things.
Not that he is what you might call a true democrat. In a socialist state, one has to hear all sorts of unkind things about the absurdity of having a nobility hanging around.
He nods gravely. "Oh, yes, you hear that sort of comment. But I think the difference between the British aristocracy and the European aristocracy - here I'm being rather derogatory, so tone it down a bit, if you can - well, the difference between them is our aristocracy has (a) always married into almost all social classes and (b) continues to play a role in national life. And they must accept a lot of responsibility, charities, and so on . . ."
He frowns slightly. "Have, I expressed that well? I hope I have. The fact remains that the House of Lords, which the Socialists would like to abolish, of course - well, in fact remains that hereditary peers make a big contribution in the tidying up of bills."
Of course the Duke knows all about hereditary, having been brought up with Wellingtoniana.
"One thing I can say," he announces with no little pride. "nothing in my family has ever been disposed of or thrown away. We have 33 boxes of Wellington's personal possessions, everything from his false teeth to 20 sets of underclothes. I believe. So I was brought up in this aura, you might say."
You might indeed, and you might also wonder what effect this has on a descendent - duke or no duke. You might wonder, for instance, if it makes a person feel small, surrounded constantly by the remnants of a man "whom many English consider to be the greatest Englishman who ever lived." You might worry, for example, about the eventual attendance at your million who came to Wellington's. But the eighth Duke, as it happens, is not concerned.
"How can I express it?" he muses. "It doesn't stifle me, no, no. He was the sort of man who comes once every 500 years. He was a man of such unique character that he stands on a pedestal. No normal mortal can aspire to those heights.
"And I," says the Duke firmly, very firmly, "I am a normal mortal."