The Age of Innocence Chapter 9
Archer arrives at Countess Olenska's house at 5:30 the following evening. He wonders briefly if this visit is acceptable - after all, he hasn't even told May about it. Then he remembers that May, at the opera, had asked him to be kind to her cousin; he decides that May wouldn't care if he visited Ellen without her knowledge. Archer is curious about why Ellen summoned him.
Ellen is not at home. Her maid, Nastasia, opens the door and ushers Archer into a sitting room filled with all sorts of eccentric and exotic items. As Archer looks at the room, he imagines the rest of his life with May in the house they will own:
"The young man felt that his fate was sealed: for the rest of his life he would go up every evening between the cast-iron railings of that greenish-yellow doorstep, and pass through a Pompeian vestibule into a hall with a wainscoting of varnished yellow wood. But beyond that his imagination could not travel." Chapter 9, pg. 63
Archer waits for a long time, wondering why Ellen even bothered to invite him if she wasn't going to show up.
Finally, he hears a noise in the street, and looks out to see Julius Beaufort helping Ellen down from a carriage. Ellen enters her drawing-room alone. She shows no surprise at seeing Archer waiting there.
Their conversation covers many topics. Archer learns of Ellen's frustrations with New York: frustrations with the unspoken rules about what is proper and what is not, frustrations with the complicated, powerful web of society. Ellen allows him to see New York society through new eyes. She believes that the reason for the van der Luydens powerful influence is that they rarely associate with people. Archer, with surprise, realizes that she has uncovered the secret of the two people he has always held in awe.
Ellen eventually reveals to Archer her unbearable loneliness. When she begins to cry, he moves quickly to comfort her and hold her hand.
At this intimate moment, Nastasia pokes her head into the room to announce the arrival of the Duke of St. Austrey and his friend Mrs. Struthers. Ellen quickly resumes the role of the good hostess. Archer, feeling left out, excuses himself and wanders out into the streets.
Once he leaves Ellen's house, his thoughts turn again to May. Archer realizes that he had forgotten to send his fiancée her daily bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley. When he stops off at the flower shop to order them, a bouquet of yellow roses catches his attention. At first, he thinks that he will send them to May. "He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse was to send them to May. But they did not look like her - there was something too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty." Chapter 9, pg. 69
Almost without thinking, he orders a box of the yellow roses, addresses an envelope to Ellen, and slips his name card into it. Just as he is about to leave, he takes back his card, leaving only the empty envelope.