"Howja-dew. I'm a rhinoceros," he said.

"Devening. I represent the green sea turtle," she said, beginning to dance and fling her arms about.

Thus it was last night at the animal party given by Christine and Roger Stevens at their house on semi-sedate 34th Street. Guests wore masks, full costumes, or bottons indicating the animal they thought deserved special protection or attention.

"I speak on behalf of our friend, the rat, Rattus rattus," said Ann Free, activist and free-lancer for animal rights. "Of all animals he is the most intelligent, next to humans."

She had mounted a soap box.

This was a wooden box with SOAP BOX painted on it. She took off her shoes before mounting, perhaps a ritual gesture, and she held aloft a burning candle in each hand.

"You give people an animal identity," said Hugh Gough of New York, down for the party of his in-laws, "and things get less starchy. There is a good bit of starch in the world."

"Washington is built on starch," someone observed.

"Yes. And you put 'em in animal costumes and there can be rather a breakthrough," Gough thought.

Among those broken through were Martita Goshen, in soft ruffles as a sea turtle, consideralby annoyed if you said you never saw a sea turtle with ruffles; Anne Wickham, a State Department worker done up in elephant ears, apologizing for not having a long nose or a rough hide.

Philip Geyelin, a judge (for innumerable prizes were given for costumes) hid his hat in the spindles of a staircase as well he might, for his hat was made of dog fur.

"Dog fur," someone said.

"Yes," he said. "There are no dogs in China except the ones raised for fur for those hats."

So much for ancient cultures and the low level of all art, all wisdom, in the modern world. China, a fountain of culture, grows dogs for fur.

"I represent the black-footed ferret and the prairie dog," said Dr. Jules Cass, a vet who surpervises animals in veterans hospitals' labs.

He handed out leaflets, opposing the poisoning of the pups and ferrets by cattlemen who lease government land for next to nothing but who go to pieces if once in a great while a dumb bull busts a leg in a prairie dog hole and has to be put down.

Like most gung-ho types, they like to be protected against the least financial risk, and if that protection involves the most gruesome poisoning of wild native animals it's no skin off their nose.

Roger Stevens dressed in a helmet that may have been a wolf, may have been a cat. "It is very hot in here," he said.

Barbara Lowe, down from Greenwich, Conn., peered about but understood, you know, that we are a bit different here.

Michael Fox, vet and well-known author of animal books, wore a human mask trimmed in fur on his back and Tom Beveridge, the composer, wore a picture of a human being clutched by a bomb.

"We are endangered," he said.

But it doesn't seem cricket. Animals are helpless, while humans get what they vote for.

Many of the guests were quiet, elegant as animals, and not really very good at the coarse, bluffing, hearty balderdash common at Washington political parties.

A few bumpkins were on hand, however, such as the fellow who hollored at a woman, "You droped something." Another woman said:

"Yes indeed you did, let me pick it up," and did so.

"D'you think it was too withering an insult to him for me to pick it up for her?" she asked a friend.

"The idiot never got your point," was the reply.

Here was a party in which the faithful solaced the faithful, in a strange and hostile land.

Betty Thruston, an authority on Gregorian chants, from New York, represented Beauty Without Cruelty which supports fake furs and cosmetics that are not tested on animals.

"We test our cosmetics on the board of directors," she said. "It's not specially brave of them, since they know to begin with the ingredients are safe."

A golden marmoset walked past. So did a beaver. So did a kangaroo. So did a very large rabbit with a sign protesting dog-track racing.

Christine Rogers represented a three-legged raccoon (one leg caught in a spring trap).

Carolyn Bonker wore a button, "Boycott Japanese Goods,' because of Japanese slaughter of rare whales. It was not really a peaceable kindom at the Stevens' -- outrage was too close to the surface, just beneath the bunny costumes or the sea-turtle frills.

Boos and hisses of surprising vigor attended the introduction of "Gen. Do-Bad of the Corps of Engineers," who stalked up to the wisteria-laden gallery off the drawing room to make a sardonic speech in which the Engineers were shown to be enemies of wild nature.

Unfair, of course, since the Engineers, have done wonders here and there. But Gen. Do-Bad resembled a hybrid of a peacock and a hardware store, dangling with medals like Mussolini gone to heaven.

"Actually I'm Brent Blackwelder of the Environmental Policy Center," he said.

The protest was against that arrogance by which beavers, snail-darters or humans are assumed to be less consequential than the sterile babble of "progress."

And yet, one thought of the dog-fur hat, the torn rabbits of the paraded poster, the guy too lazy to pick up the woman's handkerchief, and longed for something so totally wholesome and good as to redeem (as the poet said) the time.

And behold -- Amanda Bean, aged three weeks, in a zippered pouch hung beneath her mother's breast.

"Like to see her?" asked her mother, Sandra.

Inside, little Amanda was asleep, looking much like Nefertiti, that elegant queen of Egypt, only with a tiny red T-shirt promoting the welfare of giraffes.

Her father, Michael (chairman, wildlife program, Environmental Defense Fund) stood above her.

"Her first party," he said.

And more than one, who saw her in the soft light of the old drawing room, with the guests in crazy costumes, wished her a long sweet gentle non-violent compassionate life, according to her beginning.