The Age of Innocence Chapter 34
Twenty-six years later, Archer sits in his library and remembers all the important events that took place in the room. He remembers the night when May told him that she was pregnant, and he remembers his children growing up.
Many things have changed in the years that have passed. May is dead, and their three children, Dallas, Mary, and Bill, are grown. New York society, too, has changed. For instance, Dallas is engaged to Julius Beaufort's daughter, Fanny. Their engagement would have shocked the old society, but now no one remembers Beaufort's financial scandal. Archer, in the years since Ellen left, has been a good father and a good husband; still, he feels an emptiness that never went away.
A telephone call interrupts his thoughts. Dallas invites his father to join him for a vacation in Europe.
In Paris, Dallas tells him that Ellen expects them both for a visit. Unknown to Archer, Fanny Beaufort had become friends with Ellen during an earlier trip to France. Fanny had made Dallas promise to look up Ellen while in Paris.
The invitation surprises Archer. For years, he had imagined coming to Paris to see Ellen. After a while, the idea of meeting up with her again had faded from his mind; he hadn't expected to see Ellen during this vacation. Archer is even more surprised when he learns that Dallas knows of his love for Ellen. May, it turns out, had once told Dallas of Archer's sacrifice. Archer finally realizes that May knew of his sorrow and emptiness throughout their seemingly-happy marriage.
As Archer and Dallas walk to Ellen's apartment, Archer thinks about their years of separation. He knows that Ellen has lived in a very different world, and he begins to wonder if he should see her:
"During that time he had been living with his youthful memory of her; but she had doubtless had other and more tangible companionship. Perhaps too had kept her memory of him as something apart; but if she had, it must have been like a relic in a small dim chapel, where there was not time to pray every day . . ." Chapter 34, pg. 282
Archer decides to sit outside rather than visit Ellen. Dallas doesn't understand why his father won't go up with him, and he worries about what excuse he will give to Ellen:
"His father smiled again. 'Say I'm old-fashioned: that's enough.'" Chapter 34, pg. 283
Archer looks up at the apartment and tries to see the people in the window. He catches a glimpse of a lady who must be Ellen. Archer realizes that she is more real to him in his memories than if he saw her in person.
He sits for a long time in the growing dark. When a servant closes the shutters to Ellen's window, Archer takes it as a signal. He walks back alone to his hotel.