Frank returns with his haircut, lively and flippant about the experiences. Emma defends his behavior to Mr. Knightley, arguing that an exception should be made for silly things done by sensible people.
Emma is inconsistent in approving or disapproving of people's actions based on her predispositions and prejudices.
Mr. Knightley arrives at the Coles by carriage, though he usually prefers walking. Emma approves of this change, which she declares fits his gentlemanly station better. Emma anticipates a pleasurable evening at the party, and is pleased with the special attention that Frank displays toward her.
Mr. Knightley and Emma hold different views of what makes a gentleman, with Emma’s valuing superficial graces more than Mr. Knightley.
Mrs. Cole shares that Jane has received the surprise gift of a piano, which everyone assumes to be from Colonel Campbell. Emma, however, suspects that it is a gift from Mr. Dixon and prods Frank into agreeably sharing her suspicion. As she talks with Frank, Emma learns more about him and his situation at Enscombe. Frank says he has great influence with his aunt, and excepting one point that he does not mention, believes he may persuade her to anything.
Despite Emma’s resolution not to make matches for others, she continues to imagine she can to discern what others cannot. She exercises her vanity and fancy by interpreting the gift of the piano as support for her suspicions regarding Jane and Mr. Dixon. She fails to notice, however, the inconsistencies regarding Frank’s account of his own situation at Enscombe.
Mrs. Weston informs Emma that Mr. Knightley has come in his carriage so that he can assist Jane home. Mrs. Weston imagines a match between Mr. Knightley and Jane, but Emma reacts violently against the suggestion. She declares that Mr. Knightley must not marry and deprive her nephew, Henry, of inheriting Donwell Abbey; Emma feels such a match to the impoverished Jane would be imprudent and shameful, additionally connecting Mr. Knightley to the frivolous Miss Bates. Nonetheless, Mrs. Weston believes the piano to be Mr. Knightley’s gift.
Emma protests when Mrs. Weston takes up her pastime of matchmaking, and she takes particular offense at the notion of Mr. Knightley marrying at all. Why she reacts so vehemently is slightly unclear, though it appears to be a combination of her usual snobbery regarding those with lower connections and personal concern for her nephew’s (i.e. her sister's son) inheritance and welfare.
The guests call for musical entertainment, and Emma leads the piano playing with pleasure. Frank accompanies, and then Emma resigns her place to Jane, whose talent she acknowledges to be superior. After several songs, Mr. Knightley prevents the company from tiring out Jane’s voice. Music is replaced by dancing, and Frank immediately asks Emma to be his partner. Emma is relieved that Mr. Knightley does not ask Jane. She leaves the party happy with Frank’s favor and reassured of Mr. Knightley’s lack of romantic interest in Jane.
Music and dancing are conventional entertainments for Austen’s society, and they are two talents that signal accomplishment in young ladies. As with many of these accomplishments for the class of genteel characters, they result from a combination of talent and privilege. Mr. Knightley's actions demonstrate his consideration of others, ensuring that the company’s entertainment does not take precedence over Jane’s health.