Plans for the ball are set. Emma finds Mr. Knightley’s indifference towards it annoying, as he seems determined against enjoying himself there. Emma feels slighted, but she considers his attitude to be evidence for his lack of interest in Jane, who anticipates the ball with pleasure.
Emma and Frank are both characters who are preoccupied with their own pleasure; though good-natured, they are often insensitive and dismissive of feelings that differ from theirs.
However, plans for the ball are cut short when a letter from Mrs. Churchill calls Frank home on account of her ill-health. Frank calls on Emma before he leaves, and he displays distress and hesitation. He seems about to confess something serious, and Emma supposes he is even more in love with her than she realized. She is relieved when Mr. Weston’s entrance interrupts their conversation, preventing Frank from completing whatever he intended to say.
Frank’s behavior appears to the reader and Emma as love for her. Yet, unbeknownst to us, there is another reading behind his hesitation: he believes Emma is aware of his secret with Jane. Frank interprets Emma’s understanding exactly as is convenient for him, displaying the same self-interested misperceptions that affect Emma.
Emma misses Frank after he is gone, and she reflects on his good qualities and what she believes to have been his almost confession of love for her. As she notes her own feelings of listlessness and Frank’s many virtues, she concludes that she must be “a little in love with him.” With some sighing, Emma thinks how dull and tedious Hartfield will be without him. Mr. Knightley, however, seems cheerful about Frank’s departure—though he sympathizes with others’ disappointment.
Emma’s self-conscious assessment of her feelings is somewhat comical, as it reveals the extent to which she delights in control. Just as she orchestrates everyone else’s lives around her according to her fancies, she also measures her own feelings against the pleasant romantic narrative she has devised for herself.