The Age of Innocence Chapter 16
May is surprised and overjoyed that Archer came to see her. They sit together on a bench under some orange-trees, and he kisses her for only the second time. When she quickly breaks it off, they sit in embarrassed silence. To ease the tension, Archer asks about her life in St. Augustine; she chatters about meaningless things while his mind wanders.
May's parents are also are surprised and glad to see him. Mrs. Welland, in particular, is relieved that Archer was able to convince Ellen not to go through with the divorce.
Even though the date of the wedding is set for the following year, Archer's confusion about his feelings for Ellen causes him to push for an earlier date. May, despite her longing to be married, won't be persuaded. She treats Archer's talk of Easter in Europe as a fantasy, and not as a real possibility. Archer, frustrated, keeps trying to get her to agree to an earlier wedding.
When May looks at him again, he sees in her face a maturity and deepness that he has never seen before. May asks if his desire to be married immediately has to do with another woman. Her question takes Archer by surprise; even he is not sure about his own feelings for Ellen. He quickly realizes that May has heard rumors of his earlier affair with Mrs. Rushworth, and perhaps assumes that he is still in love with her. Even when Archer assures her that he is not, May generously offers to release him from their engagement so that he might marry the woman he truly loves.
Archer is momentarily speechless at May's transformation. He assures her, again, of his love only for her, and asks her to consider an earlier wedding. When May lifts her face to be kissed, he sees happy tears in her eyes. The transformation, though, is over:
"But in another moment she seemed to have descended from her womanly eminence to helpless and timorous girlhood . . . at his first word of reassurance, she had dropped back into the usual, as a too adventurous child takes refuge in its mother's arms." Chapter 16, pg. 123
Archer is greatly disappointed; May's transformation into a mature woman lasted only for a moment, and quickly disappeared with his assurances of fidelity. He stops pressuring her to change the date of the wedding, and they walk silently back to the Wellands' vacation house.