A few nights later, Archer is at the theater watching a popular play. There is a scene that particularly moves him, in which two lovers part. The actress, turning her back to her wooer, does not see him steal over to kiss the velvet ribbon hanging down her back before he leaves the room for good. For reasons he cannot explain, this scene reminds Archer of the last time he left the Countess's flat. He concludes that it is perhaps Countess Olenska's mysterious ability to suggest a sense of tragedy that inspires him to compare her to the actress.
Archer had left Ellen's flat convinced that Count Olenski's accusation of Ellen's affair was not unfounded. It had been painful for him to have to make her see that New York would not look favorably upon this lapse in morals. But now as he sees the Countess at the theater, she appears glad to have followed his advice not to sue for divorce. Archer is relieved that at least he is advising Ellen as May wished him to.
As Archer leaves the theater he is greeted by his friend Ned Winsett, a bright and shabbily dressed young man. While as a journalist and failed author, Ned is certainly not wealthy or distinguished enough to be a part of Old New York society, his outlook on the world makes Archer reconsider the narrow values of his own life. On occasion, Ned has teased Archer that Old New York was going extinct and that it needs new blood and more active. Ned now inquires after Countess Olenska, who, it turns out, is his neighbor, and had kindly befriended his young son.
Returning to his office the next morning, Archer is again struck by the monotony and futility of his job. As one of the few fields available to men of his class, the legal profession is still seen more as a gentlemanly pursuit than as a career. In a spare moment, Archer sends a note to Ellen asking if he may call on her. After three days, she responds. She writes that she has "run away" for the week to Skuytercliff, the Hudson mansion belonging to the van der Luydens. On a whim, Archer decides to accept the weekend invitation of his friends living along the Hudson, where he will be sure to run into the Countess.
A day after arriving at his friends', Archer sets out for Skuytercliff, meeting Ellen along the way. As they walk, he asks her why she left New York so abruptly. She evades his questions temporarily by directing him towards the old van der Luyden cottage built by the family's first ancestors three hundred years earlier. Inside, Archer again questions her. As he waits, back turned, for her to respond, he imagines her coming toward him and throwing her arms around his neck. Before she can answer his question, Beaufort unexpectedly appears at the door. Ellen, visibly dismayed, bids him to enter, and Archer can see that it was Beaufort she was attempting to avoid.
A few days later, Ellen sends Archer a note asking to see him so she can explain the events at Skuytercliff. Instead of responding, he packs his bags and leaves for St. Augustine, Florida, where May has been vacationing with her parents for the past week.