It was a dark and stormy night.

President Bush was playing host to Hungarian Prime Minister Jozsef Antall at the White House. But there was a cloud hanging over the event: Was Bush going to keep the government in business after tomorrow?

"I want advice from you," he said, challenging reporters crowded around him in the Blue Room. "What should I do?"

"Keep the government in operation," they told him. And then a familiar voice drowned out the others. "Are you going to tax all these rich people here tonight?" asked United Press International's White House correspondent Helen Thomas.

Bush came back in a flash. "Make a note of this," he commanded: "Read -- " Having second thoughts, he said, "I'm in too much trouble already."

Earlier over the toasts the language was considerably more refined.

"Your gallantry has evoked our admiration. Your example has been our inspiration," Bush told Antall. "When we were in Budapest last year, I was given a piece of the Iron Curtain {barbed wire}, and I keep it there in my office that you visited today, sir, as a stark symbol of Hungary's courageous decision to open its borders, unleashing a force that helped transform Europe and eventually brought down the Berlin Wall."

The president's guest was equally complimentary. "Your presence has once again encouraged us. The United States of America and you personally are so popular -- please accept my apologies for this exaggeration -- perhaps not so popular anywhere else in the world. Mr. President, if you don't have a chance to be a third-time president of the United States, I'm sure the Hungarian nation would willingly elect you as president."

Before dinner as the guests straggled in, slowed down by the bad weather, Edward Teller, usually referred to as the father of the H-bomb, was eager to talk about the status of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which Congress has back-burnered.

"More needed than ever," he said, "because Saddam Hussein is less responsible than the Soviets. I think that defense is necessary, and what is more, against the kind of threat we now have that defense is also sufficient -- the point is that against 10,000 rockets of the Soviets it would not have been, but against 100 rockets of a little dictator it's completely sufficient."

And had he talked to Bush about this? "President Bush is excellently informed," he said archly.

Historian Barbara Fields, who became an overnight star in the public television series "The Civil War," seemed shellshocked by her new-found celebrity. "It doesn't happen to historians very often."

She wasn't yet comfortable with her televised self. "I hated it. I hated the sound of my voice, the sight of my face. I wondered how my students put up with me."

She's beginning to find out. She told of one viewer who reached her on his car phone as he was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. He wanted to know how he could get a copy of her book, "Destruction of Slavery."

"The answer is Cambridge University Press," she said, laughing.

Justice David Souter, dateless, walked briskly past reporters, looking like a goldfish trying to swim through a school of piranhas.

But later over chateaubriand, vegetable baskets and apple sorbet, he was heard telling one of his table companions that the evening was the pinnacle of his social activities in Washington thus far. Souter said he was seated between Grace Holden of Arlington and Patricia Kadar, wife of the Hungarian minister of international economic relations.

Later, asked whom she had seated Souter with, First Lady Barbara Bush professed not to know, but added that even if she did she wouldn't tell. Was she by any chance matchmaking?

Looking straight at her questioner with a mischievous smile, she replied, "I am -- I haven't changed any."

During dancing, Souter was seen on the fringes, though with anything but a wallflower demeanor. When Nover News Service correspondent Naomi Nover asked him to dance he graciously declined. When she persisted, he said judiciously, "I wouldn't put anyone through the torture."

Nonetheless, he looked comfortable among the White House crowd, receiving admirers as they floated up to greet him. A tablemate stopped by to wish him good luck in his new job. "I will need all of that," he said self-effacingly. Summing up his Washington experience, he confided, "It's a lot of work. I'm trying to earn my salary." Another well-wisher was Miss America, alias Marjorie Vincent, with whom Souter proceeded to have a lengthy tete-a-tete.

Vincent, when asked what she and Souter had talked about, answered in very Miss-America-like fashion. "We talked about his new job on the Supreme Court and I told him about law school." Vincent's reign as Miss America has interrupted her attendance at Duke Law School.

Recently injured Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien hobbled in with his wife, Annette. He was asked how his leg was.

"Very nice, thank you," he replied, and limped off.

Paroled for the night was a weary Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), bearing a status report from the Hill: "Totally messed up. I can't believe we're through for the night."

Actor Kevin Costner wasn't in the mood for statements, but he nevertheless made one -- with his footwear: black patent leather saddle shoes with heels and toes of brass.

Bush, like most of his guests, was starry-eyed over Costner's presence. But when reminded that he hadn't understood what Costner's big baseball film "Field of Dreams" was all about, Bush said, "Well, I've been studying it. I loved the baseball part but I'm not sure I understand the full fantasy even now."

A white-haired Tony Curtis arrived unaccompanied, and when asked his Hungarian connection replied proudly that he is Hungarian. At the table, Curtis, who is an accomplished artist, drew pictures for some of his companions on the backs of their menu cards. One was his impression of the floral centerpiece, which he signed and dedicated to Charles and Susanne Schafer Bierbauer's infant son.

Pianist Van Cliburn, who brought his mother along, performed a program of Chopin, Debussy and Liszt. His mother, Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn, is considered the musical grandchild of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. She studied under his pupil Arthur Friedheim.

Mrs. Bush, dazzling in a royal blue sequined lace gown, demonstrated to reporters how the night before in Cincinnati she pinch-hit for Bush by tossing out the first ball in the second game of the 1990 World Series.

"I went like this," she said, winding up her pitching arm, standing on one foot and lifting her left knee the way George Bush had told her to do it.

"You didn't sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' did you?" someone asked.

Her answer was an icy stare.

Donnie Radcliffe is a Washington Post staff writer. Barbara Feinman is a special correspondent.

The guest list for last night's dinner:

President Bush and Barbara Bush

Jozsef Antall, prime minister of the Republic of Hungary, and Klara Antall

Geza Jeszenszky, minister of foreign affairs, and Edit Jeszenszky

Bela Kadar, minister of international economic relations, and Patricia Kadar

Ferenc Madl, minister without portfolio

Peter Zwack, ambassador of Hungary, and Anne Zwack

Gyorgy Matolcsy, state secretary, office of the prime minister

Istvan Forrai, director, prime minister's secretariat

Gyula Kodolanyi, chief officer of the cabinet

Balazs Laszlo, government spokesman

Pal Tar, special adviser to the prime minister

W. French Anderson, National Institutes of Health, and Kathryn Anderson

Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) and Ellen Armstrong

James Baker, secretary of state, and Susan Baker

William J. Bennett, director of national drug control policy, and Elayne Bennett

Imre Bertalan, president, American Hungarian Reformed Federation, and Margaret Bertalan

Anthony J. Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, and Susanne Schafer Bierbauer, Associated Press

John C. Bierwirth, Grumman Corp., and Marion Bierwirth

Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Marianne Boehlert

Michael J. Boskin, chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, and Christian Boskin

William Boyd and Katie Boyd

Alberto Cardenas; Greenberg, Traurig, Hoffman, Lipoff

Kevin Costner, actor, and Cynthia Costner

Larry Csonka, former Miami Dolphins running back

Tony Curtis, actor

Ann Dowd, assistant editor, Fortune magazine, and Patrick Dowd

Lawrence S. Eagleburger, coordinator of U.S. assistance to Eastern Europe, and Marlene Eagleburger

Richard Farmer, chairman & CEO, Cintas Corp., and Joyce Farmer

Geza Feketekuty, senior policy adviser, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Carol Feketekuty

Barbara Fields, Civil War historian, and Aubrey Williams

Leonard Goldberg, producer, and Wendy Goldberg

David Gompert, special assistant to the president for national security affairs

Charles Daniel Goodgame, Time magazine, and Marcia Goodgame

William B. Graham, Baxter Healthcare Corp., and Catherine Graham

C. Boyden Gray, counsel to the president

William Alexander Hewitt and Patricia Hewitt

Grace Holden

Richard H. Jenrette, chairman, Equitable Life Insurance Society

Adm. David Jeremiah, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Connie Jeremiah

Rep. John J. LaFalce (D-N.Y.) and Patricia LaFalce

Rep. Tom Lantos, (D-Calif.) and Annette Lantos

Ronald S. Lauder, chairman, Central European Development Corp., and Jo Carole Lauder

Cy Laughter, Laughter Corp., and Audrey Laughter

Judith Leiber, Judith Leiber Inc., and Gerson Leiber

Theodore Lerner and Annette Lerner

James Loomis and Shirley Loomis

John Lukacs, historian, and Stephanie Lukacs

Robert Mosbacher, secretary of commerce, and Georgette Mosbacher

Sen. Don Nickles (R.-Okla.) and Linda Nickles

Ricardo Pines and Elba Pines, Coral Gables, Fla.

Marilyn Quayle

Joseph V. Reed, chief of protocol, and Serena Kusserow

John E. Robson, deputy secretary of the treasury, and Margaret Robson

Peter Rona, I.B.J. Schroder Bank & Trust Co.

Mark Rypien, Washington Redskins quarterback, and Annette Rypien

Nicolas M. Salgo, former U.S. ambassador to Hungary

Sen. Terry Sanford (D-N.C.) and Margaret Rose Sanford

John P. Schmitz, deputy counsel to the president, and Joan Schmitz

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Park East Synagogue, New York City, and Elisabeth Schneier

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, assistant to the president for national security affairs

Justice David Souter, the Supreme Court of the United States

Paul Stern, chairman and CEO, Northern Telecom Ltd., and Patricia Stern

Edward Teller, Hoover Institution

Charles H. Thomas, U.S. ambassador to Hungary, and Lourana Thomas

Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) and Carol Vander Jagt

Rev. Msgr. William Varsanyi, chairman, Hungarian Catholic League of America

William Ashley Verlander, chairman and CEO, American Heritage Life Insurance Co., and Alice Verlander

Marjorie Vincent, Miss America 1991

Adrienne Vittadini, Adrienne Vittadini Inc., and Gian Luigi Vittadini

John F. Welch Jr., chairman, General Electric Co., and Jane Welch

John C. Whitehead, chairman, Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund