Crisis was almost a visible presence yesterday in the modest Guatemalan chancery on R Street NW, with its ever ringing telephones and the strained faces of the embassy staff. Two days ago, President Jorge Antonio Serrano Elias dissolved the Congress, the constitution and the Supreme Court. The same day, ambassador extraordinary and plenipoteniary Edmond Mulet Lesieur resigned.

Upstairs in the ambassadorial office, hung with handsome contemporary paintings from Guatemala, Mulet seemed unable to sit down to talk. Moving almost in a blur, he answered the telephone in French, Spanish and English, sometimes all in one conversation: "Your support means so much to me, Paul." He relayed the latest news by phone from Guatemala: "The newly appointed chief justice has just had a heart attack."

Mulet's aides popped in and out to tell him what they'd heard by calling Guatemala City. As one put it, "We wish they would call us and volunteer more {information}." So far, no other member of the 11-person embassy -- career foreign service officers, staff and two military attaches -- has resigned.

Every so often, the envoy took a second to worry about personal problems. He has to pack, clear out his papers and make arrangements to go home -- but exactly where, he and his wife don't know. Their own house in the suburbs of Guatemala City is being repaired and remodeled. "Maybe we'll stay with my wife's mother," he said. He isn't sure what he can do about the new car he has just bought for his wife. And there's their sons' school, the French Lycee, which isn't over.

He doesn't know when he's leaving Washington. "We have to leave the embassy residence. Maybe we'll rent an apartment," he said.

He, his wife, Karen Lind de Mulet, and their two young sons, Daniel, 10, and David, 8, arrived in February. So they have hardly had time to unpack their lift van of possessions before having to pack them up again.

Actually, he hasn't even had time to be presented to President Clinton; there has been no official acceptance of his credentials -- as with many other new ambassadors -- because a chief of protocol has yet to be confirmed. He has presented them to the State Department.

Mulet said two or three of his fellows have joined him in resigning. Yesterday Lars Pira resigned as Guatemala's ambassador to the Nordic countries. In the United States, aid to Guatemala was suspended, but as of last night, diplomatic relations had not been severed between the two countries. Mulet said the U.S. Embassy has evacuated its citizens from the country.

Mulet reacted immediately to the coup with the passion of a human rights advocate and an activist democrat -- and most recently president of the Guatemala National Congress.

"First I called the president. I told him I cannot stay on. I said I was resigning. He asked me not to. I had no choice. He took it badly. The next day, I sent faxes to the Casa Presidencial and the minister of foreign affairs."

To President Serrano he wrote, accusing him of sweeping away all the democratic institutions in an arbitrary and unconstitutional way, condemning him for the "self-coup d'etat by which you set yourself up as a new dictator in our country." Mulet wrote that there was still time to "meditate and reconsider your attitude and I am sure that you will find many national sectors and groups willing to help you fight the traditional evils of our country, but through dialogue and the search of consensus."

When he was president of the National Congress last year, the ambassador wrote Serrano, he and the opposition leaders of the legislative branch "many times at the expense of our own credibility" had given the president "ample and unlimited support."

But, Mulet wrote, "I cannot be the ambassador of a 'de facto' government, product of a coup d'etat. To do it would be in violation of my most fundamental principles and the sacrifice of a whole life dedicated to strive for the achievement of democracy and the respect of human rights in Guatemala."

Mulet, who has known the president for some time, described him yesterday as "an evangelist fundamentalist, with a Messianic attitude."

He summed up his own lifetime political philosophy in the last paragraph of his letter to his adversary: "I constitute myself in this country as the representative of constitutionality, institutionality and democracy of Guatemala. I hope that in the next hours you may have enough conscience and responsibility to determine the ominous consequences that this coup will cause in our country and decide to go back to the democratic course ."