White House advisers Edwin Meese, James Baker and Michael Deaver weren't there, but communications director David Gergen, political director Lyn Nofziger and presidential assistant Rich Williamson were. So were Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), the president's best friend on the Hill. But there was no sign of Ronald Reagan.

"I'm just here as a friend -- don't read anything into that," said James Buckley, undersecretary of state for security assistance, science and technology.

This was no place for the politically skittish. "The Friends of Dick Allen" yesterday held a tribute for the national security adviser, now on leave. It was a lunch where the list of regrets was a keen reminder of the nature of Washington allegiances during a public official's public troubles. As Richard Allen himself put it: "This is a very big high -- but not one that has you detached from reality."

At the end, Allen's wife cried. After an emotional introduction, Pat Allen got a standing ovation and then, tears falling onto flushed cheeks, accepted handshakes and kisses from old friends in the crowd. "In the past two weeks, Pat, I and the family have experienced . . . some trying situations," her husband said. "We have been sustained by friends like you."

There were 400 of them at the Mayflower Hotel. They used the occasion to send out conservative drumbeats, complain about the news media and praise Allen, in the words of Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner, "as one of our own."

"After Iowa" (the state's presidential caucus won by George Bush), said M. Stanton Evans, the conservative columnist, "he never even considered going over to the Bush apparatus -- which makes you wonder how he got a job in the administration to begin with."

The hot roomful of conservatives laughed loud and hard at this poke at administration moderates -- most notably James Baker -- who, they complain, are sidetracking the president from his conservative philosphy.

Evans called it "the weekly Wednesday meeting" of conservatives. "We were thinking about holding the meeting in Dick's front yard," he said, "but NBC wouldn't give up its squatter's rights."

Allen is on administrative leave from the White House while the Justice Department investigates his acceptance of two watches from Japanese journalists in exchange for an interview he arranged with Nancy Reagan. The department is also investigating his misstatements on a financial disclosure form. He has been cleared of any wrongdoing for receiving $1,000 from the journalists, but the White House is reviewing his foreign business contacts. Both Baker and Deaver reportedly feel he should go. Two senior officials have said they think Allen will not return.

"I fully expect to resume my duties," Allen said yesterday. "My chances? What is this talk about chances?"

"A little better than fifty-fifty," assessed Feulner, out of earshot. The lunch was his idea, cooked up two weeks ago with several friends over dinner at the University Club. He has known Allen almost 20 years and considers him a mentor.

The idea was not popular at the White House. Several key aides were angry that Feulner had put them in the awkward position of having to take sides. And Meese, who has been Allen's defender at the top levels of the White House, was against it.

"I called him last Monday and told him the mailgrams invitations were going out," said Feulner, "and he asked me not to do it. And I said I had expected that request -- and that's why I had already sent them. I think he was apprehensive about how it was going to be portrayed. I assured him it was not going to be an anti-adminstration effort."

Clearly, a show of support for someone under investigation made the White House staffers who did come a little nervous. "I may not have picked up any points," said Williamson. "But to me, you take the more personal value rather than the calculated, internecine situation." Gergen, after debating it through the morning, appeared late and stayed well in the back. He left after half an hour, which was just long enough for someone to tell Feulner that he was there. Feulner promptly announced it from the podium.

"Sometimes in this town, we tend to run away from people when they're in trouble," Gergen said. "In the past I've seen that crush people. I was concerned about it being misread, but in the long run I looked upon it as an expression of caring."

The setting of the lunch was similar to any Washington tribute -- lots of speeches, a fruit cup and chicken, squeezed hands, whomped backs, big cigars, superlatives. But the tributee, who has come down from the high of his media blitzkrieg of two weeks ago, was surrounded by supporters, some of whom danced around him with noticeable caution.

"I have no comment, I'm just happy to be here," said public relations man Peter Hannaford, who bought Allen's business and has been a subject of scrutiny himself.

"I don't want to talk about that," said former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, whose name is frequently floated as a replacement for Allen.

"I'm not here to make any statement; I'm just here to show my friendship," said Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).

Everyone involved said the lunch wasn't a lobbying effort. "If it is," said Laxalt, "it would be counterproductive. This is a president who doesn't respond to that kind of pressure."

So this was definitely not a lobbyist party? Feulner was asked.

He looked uncomfortable. Then he looked for help to M. Stanton Evans, who sat next to him on the dais. "It's not a lobbying effort," Evans said.

Feulner smiled. "We're just showing the importance that conservatives attribute to men of principles," he said.

There were 1,200 invited, including the president, the senior White House staff and all of the Cabinet. Former treasury secretary William Simon, whose name was on the "Friends of Dick Allen Committee" list, sent a telegram regretting. Those attending included Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce, New York Times columnist William Safire, lawyer Ed Weidenfeld, International Communication Agency Director Charles Z. Wick, former State Department Human Rights Bureau nominee Ernest Lefever, U.S. Treasurer Bay Buchanan and former Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan.

Right before lunch, there was a prayer said by Norris Sydnor, the associate pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Seabrook, Md. He was a senior foreign policy adviser under Allen during the Reagan campaign and transition.

"We have to stay together, to exalt each other," he said, "knowing that next time, it might be us."