The Age of Innocence Chapter 18
When Ellen enters the drawing-room, she sees an expensive bouquet of flowers, probably from Beaufort. She is angry that someone is treating her like a young girl engaged to be married. In a fit of rage, she tells Nastasia to take the flowers out of her sight and to give them to Ned Winsett's ill wife. Ellen's temper excites Archer, who is unused to such emotional outbursts.
After the Marchioness leaves, the two sit alone together. Conversation soon turns to Count Olenski's letter to the Marchioness. As they talk, Archer realizes that Ellen never loved Beaufort. He tells her of his unsuccessful attempts to convince May to move up the date of their wedding, and also of her surprising, generous offer to release him from the engagement. When Archer finishes the story, Ellen asks him about the other woman who May thinks he loves. Archer, at first, denies that there is another woman . . . then find that he cannot.
Archer sits beside Ellen and takes her hand. At his touch, she moves away from him. When Archer tells Ellen that she is the woman he would have married if it had been possible, Ellen grows angry. It was because of him (Archer) that she gave up the divorce that would have made their union possible; she cared too much about Archer to bring him or his family shame.
Ellen's words weigh down Archer. He realizes too late that the woman he will marry is not the woman he loves.
When Ellen begins to cry, Archer holds her. They kiss for a long moment, and then Ellen pulls away from him. She tells him that their love won't change anything, but Archer disagrees; he is willing to call off the marriage to May. Ellen is more realistic, and she resists Archer's pleas to give in to their love.
At this moment, Nastasia returns with a telegram. Apparently, Mrs. Mingott and Ellen were successful in persuading the Wellands: May writes that her parents have agreed to a wedding after Easter.
Archer returns home to find a similar telegram from May. He crumples it up, hoping that doing so will take the news away. Then he pulls out his calendar and looks at the dates. He realizes, with a shock, that he is to marry May in only one month.