Britain's Charles: prince of a fellow

Princess Heather of Sweetbriar was determined to see the Prince. She practised her curtsy for days. Of course, for a bulldog that's not easy, but according to her owner, Bob Verbylia, she tried. "When she heard the Prince of Wales was coming, she had to be here," he said.

Princess Heather, straining at the leash, peered out anxiously through a thicket of ankles. How could a British bulldog stay by the fire on a chill day when a prince of the realm was due to drop from the pewter skies?

Suddenly two large helicopters swooped onto the green playing field of William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., plucking off hats in a brief, furious windstorm.

A somewhat short and less-than-red carpet was unrolled. The welcoming party shivered. A door slid open in the royal helicopter and out stepped Charles Philip Arthur George, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

Prince Charles, nearing the end of a four-day US excursion, had flown into the 17th-century college to receive an honorary fellowship and dash through adjoining Colonial Williamsburg.

Were the girls hanging over the "HI CHARLIE" sign on nearby Chandler Hall sorry that Prince Charles was now spoken for?

"Yeeeeeeessssssss!" they moaned, in unison.

"You didn't come down here just to see me?" asked the Prince politely, working the crowd en route to the Sir Christopher Wren building.

Prince Charles's US visit culminates a five-week tour in which he also visited New Zealand, Australia, and Venezuela. Officially a goodwill trip, British trade and prestige is often boosted by such royal circumnavigations.

"The Prince is more exciting than the President, I hate to say it," said William and Mary student Vickie Turcotte.

This trip (which ended Saturday night with a White House dinner) would have been considerably shorter had it been planned after the Prince's engagement, say tour insiders. Charles confessed to British reporters three weeks ago that he was "pining" for his young fiancee. In Australia, according to one source, the Prince spoke with her over a special private phone.

The Prince began his US visit in Washington, where he toured part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

According to Rita Bobowski, a museum spokesman, His Royal Highness showed particular interest in the World War I aviation gallery and the Apollo moon exhibit. The Prince seemed delighted to see a Spad 16 in which air ace Billy Mitchell took a previous Prince of Wales for a ride in 1918.

With hands at parade rest, Prince Charles regarded moon rock samples reverentially. He seemed curiously enthralled by the brecchia.

Asked by a reporter whether he planned to go on the space shuttle, he replied "What? In the hold?"m

Throughout his trip, the Prince has appeared loath to discuss a more-down-to-earth mode of transport -- the horse. But President Reagan seemed determined to bring up the royal visitor's equestrian tumbles during an Oval Office meeting. An unsmiling Charles listened as Reagan confessed to having slipped off a few saddles in his time.

Charles later attended an evensong service at the Washington Cathedral, occasionally surveying the soaring Gothic architecture and brilliant stained glass as he sang.

The Prince has complained about the superficial nature of his day-to-day contacts with press and public. When receiving his fellowship at William and Mary, he took the opportunity in his subsequent speech to stress a theme dear to him.

"We have to learn that the modern way of growing great is through growing small again, so that men can operate in small units where everyone is recognizable as an individual," he said.

Virginia Gov. John Dalton elicited a royal smile at the ceremony when he declared that the Prince's engagement "has set hearts pounding all across the Commonwealth."

Many of these pounding hearts are young and female. "I'm flunking German because of you!" said co-ed Sandy Smith as the Prince shook her hand.

The giant CH-53 helicopters of the presidential squadron coughed into life. The machines clattered away over the treetops, with Prince Charles safely aboard. The State Department security men broke into relieved grins and began slapping each other on the back, like a winning football team.

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