It had been two days since Begin, Sadat and that other fella had signed the peace treaty. The world was grinning. But Archie Lye was pacing, still in a snit.

The orders to the staff at the White House state dinner on Treaty Night had been very clear-at least they had been clear to Archie Lye: Don't pick up anyone's plate until the Big Three's had been picked up.

"But everybody ignored it," said Lye, as he backed-and-forthed the living room of his Adams-Morgan townhouse in jeans and jogging shoes. "They were picking up all over the place. Whenever they felt like it. As soon as they could.

"It upsets me. I get very upset. I'll tell you, it's just not like it used to be."

But Archibald Robert Lye is.

Granted, he's a little rounder. Assuredly, he is a little grayer. But when he came to the United States at 20 from his home in Seend, England, all Archie Lye wanted to become was the best butler in Washington. Forty-nine years later, many feel that he made if a long time ago-and that no one comes close to dislodging him even now.

Standards, as much as soups, are Archie Lye's real business. His pastime is bemoaning the disappearance of what he calls "gentler days."

Lye curses the fact that no one else in Washington seems to know how to set a tea table any more. He thinks he may be the only earthing left who knows that a "bridge mix" of nuts must never exceed 33 1/3 percent peanuts.

In short, Lye is a Butler, if you please-not a waiter, or a houseboy, or a dayworker, but a professional who never wishes he were somewhere or someone else.

That's Butler as in knowing wines and manners, and going out of one's way to learn idiosyncracies. Butler as in ready to offer advice on etiquette. Butler as in someone who can "announce" names to a receiving line. Who still gets properly horrified when someone puts elbows on a table. Who can keep a secret for a generation, or more, if necessary.

It's craft that rewards the careful, in other words. The mystique is the message. Or as Archie Lye the Butler observes, no one ever suspected a mere waiter of having committed the murder.

In the last decade, as a "semiretired butler of leisure," Lye has worked at only three Washington locations: the White House, the State Department and the swank F Street Club.

At all three, Lye Receives the standard rate of $30 for the first four hours. He is hired by reputation ("They all know me; I know all them"). And he provides his own clothing-usually a tux (he owns seven) or what he fondly calls his "Sadat suit," a blue, pinstriped number much like the one the Egyptian president always seems to wear.

But Lye's chief claim in Washington society circles is nothing sartorial. He has made a life out of never forgetting which name goes with which face. One hostess calls him the King of Total Recall.

The stories abound: How Archie is the only "announcer" who can remember HEW faces down to the assistant secretary level (spouses included). How one flighty ambassador had five wives in his 10 years here-and how Archie flawlessly adjusted to each new one, often before the previous divorce was final. How one of Alice Roosevelt Longworth's friends dropped off the social pinwheel for nearly 20 years-and how Archie remembered her on her first night back.

Can it thus be an accident that copies of Who's Who are stacked on a Lye coffee table? Or that Lye subscribes to Washingtonian Magazine just for the pictures, which he diligently studies, the better to remember the faces? Or that the place of honor on his living room wall is covered with a 1968 newspaper profile headlined "If You're a Somebody, Archie Will Know You"?

Just as pets sometimes reflect their masters, so butlers sometimes reflect the snootiness of their "clients." But Archie Lye is not immune to a day at the races, to a look at the baseball standings or to a brew or two. Nor is he hard-eyed, cynical, quick to judge. More than anything, he is a listener.

Lye refined that art in the 1940s and '50s, when he would walk his dog through two miles of Rock Creek Park every morning with Virginia's Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. and Byrd's dog.

One day, Lye got a Byrdian accolade he still cherishes. A Capitol Hill staffer, knowing Byrd's morning route, intercepted the senator and began talking business about a pending bill. "Byrd told him to get lost," Lye recalls with a smile. "He said, 'I can talk to you when I'm at work, Archie, here, he listens to what I like to talk about."

The highlight of Lye's career involved listening to a lady who never hesitated to talk about what she liked: Cissy Patterson. Lye was her butler for "many years." He cannot remember exactly how many-and given the way she treated him, that may be little wonder.

Patterson, the publisher of the Washington Times-Herald, had a passion for good living, good loving and loudly telling the help what to do-not necessarily in that order.

Rare was the day she began without a tantrum, usually directed at Lye or one of his assistants, usually for an imagined sin. Her staff turnover was as monumental as her bank account.

Lye is still careful not to speak disparagingly of Patterson, even today, 30 years after her death, as if he is afraid she will rise from the grave and yell at him. But he is proud of one thing: "I'm the only butler she never fired."

Lye has spent four months a year in Maine recently, and when in Washington, he has cut his working schedule to two or three days a week. At 69, "I just take things as they go now," he says. "My wife says I don't do anything any more-and she may be right."

One idea has frequently danced through Lye's head: writing a kiss-and-tell book about nearly half a century on the Society Express.

"Everyone's saying I should," says Archie, "but I'm not sure I could. Really, there aren't that many confidences. You don't get to talk to them all that much. And I only remember the humorous things."

But if the book ever happens, it would be as bone-accurate as Lye's handling of a dinner for eight. Impeccable may not have become Archie Lye's middle name in 49 years of butling, "but it sure is the secret to this art I've been doing all this time." CAPTION: Picture, Archie Lye, longtime butler: "It's just not like it used to be." By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post