Upon their arrival at the Westons, Mr. Elton attentively shadows Emma, to her continued dismay. She begins to suspect that Mr. John Knightley may be right about his interest in her. Despite her alarm and vexation at Mr. Elton, she strives to remain civil and ladylike.
The sense of comedy that unfolds as Mr. Elton obsequiously hovers over Emma belies the real harm of the situation. Though Emma may experience only irritation, Harriet’s heart and future is at stake—because of Emma's meddling.
Emma overhears Mr. Weston announce an upcoming visit from his son, Frank Churchill. She listens with great curiosity, as in spite of her resolution to remain celibate, she has often thought that Frank would be a perfect match for her in age, character, and condition—particularly given their close connection through the Westons—if she were to consider marriage. Thus, she takes an active interest in his affairs and even anticipates a possible dalliance.
For the first time, we see Emma’s imagination at work regarding a match for herself. Her mind works with the same fancy, vanity, and social considerations as she does with the other matches: she assesses their connections, age, social class, and accomplishments in concluding that they are suitable for each other.
Mr. Weston mentions to Emma that Mrs. Weston suspects that Frank’s visit will be put off once more, because his son is so dependent upon the ill-tempered and snobbish Mrs. Churchill’s favor. Mrs. Weston confides her own worries to Emma: she cannot bear to think Frank at fault, and so she is sure that the Churchills strive to keep him for themselves and object to the visit.
The situation at Enscombe, the Churchills’ estate, reveals the potential dependency of even a “well-off” young gentleman on his guardians’ support. At the same time, we observe the Westons’ determined inability to read any potential flaws in Frank, as they blame all of his delays on Mrs. Churchill.
Emma puzzles over how a young man—particularly one who is such a favorite—should find himself so constrained from visiting his father, though she can conceive of a young woman being powerless under her guardians’ sway. Mrs. Weston, however, insists that Mrs. Churchill is so unreasonable that one cannot judge Frank for his delay.
With sharp insight, Emma understands the constraints of young ladies to decide their futures, but she feels that something is lacking in explanation or character regarding a young man so dependent on his guardian. Here, as in other cases in the novel, we see that those outside the situation may perceive it more objectively than those intimately involved.