The Age of Innocence Chapter 2
Archer soon recognizes the new woman as the May's cousin, Ellen Olenska. The men in his opera box whisper about the scandal that surrounds her. She was married to a European count, then ran off with his secretary and lived with him in Venice for a while before coming to her family in New York. The men disapprove of the Mingott family for bringing a woman with such a shady reputation to a classy place like the opera.
Although Archer is embarrassed that his fiancée's cousin is attracting so much attention, he approves of the family's loyalty. When the act ends, he leaves his opera box and hurries over to May. He wants to show the world that he is engaged to May, and will stand behind her family's decision to embrace the scandalous Ellen Olenska. May, as soon as she sees Archer enter her box, understands his reasons for visiting:
"The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done." Chapter 2, pg. 14
Mrs. Welland re-introduces Ellen and Archer; they had known each other as children. Archer sits next to May, and they whisper about the engagement. He wants to announce it as soon as possible. May gives him permission to tell Ellen.
Archer sits next to the Countess, hoping that the entire opera house can see them talking together. He doesn't tell her about the engagement, though. Ellen talks about childhood memories: she remembers that Archer kissed her behind a door, and mentions that she can picture everybody in the audience in their knickerbockers and pantalettes. Her disrespectful way of talking about New York society in its underwear shocks Archer.