The rehearsal dinner, as you might say, lasted into yesterday's morning, and the London panda who is supposed to breed with the National Zoo's virginal nubile Ling-Ling got his first good look at his intended.

He had only seen her previously through the moon gate, at which time she growled at him.

About 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, however, the stars and the tea leaves and other signs seemed right, so National Zoo authorities ( having met in high council) decided to let the two pandas outdoors together for the first time.

Chia-Chia followed Ling-Ling down towards the moat -- it was a lovely soft night, a bit misty -- and there, as his first gesture of love, "hit her really hard."

Courtship techniques vary, needless to say, and there were assorted noises, not all of them suggestive of ecstasy, before Ling-Ling entered her private quarters in the panda house after midnight. No mating occurred.

"Chia-Chia was establishing dominance," said Ilene Ackerman, representing Control Central.

"A number of abrasions and some bites," she said, when pressed to give a delicate account of the meeting. "She was not all seriously hurt and is in excellent condition. Today she seems very quiet. The panda house is closed so she can rest."

Earlier Tuesday night, Ackerman said, the maiden panda was turned loose with Hsing-Hsing, the zoo's resident male who in the past has not been an effective lover and, again, was not on Tuesday night though Ackerman said he was making progress, she believed.

Indeed, Hsing-Hsing's amorous attempts were so well received by Ling-Ling that the decision was made to try her with Chia-Chia that very night. So at 10:30, and the rest is history.

It is assumed, or at least hoped, that once Chia-Chia has got through his macho exercises, showing the girl who the hell is boss around here, that he may go so far as to make love.

High councils resumed yesterday at the zoo on where to go from here. Possibly Hsing-Hsing will be tried again. Perhaps Chia-Chia (who seemed in excellent spirits yesterday despite his post-midnight carryings on) will be tried again today, or artifical insemination may seem (depending on the tea leaves and other signs) most likely to produce a small panda.

"One thing definitely established," said Ackerman, "is that Ling-Ling is in heat," and since her period of receptivity to males is believed to be no more than about five days, it were well that if it be done, it were done quickly.

The zoo will inform citizens of developments as they transpire.