Emma reflects with pleasure on the events of the ball: Mr. Knightley and her own shared understanding of the rude Eltons and the amiability of Harriet, Frank’s diminished love for her, and Harriet’s disillusionment regarding Mr. Elton. For after the episode at the ball, Emma has hopes that Harriet’s enduring love for Mr. Elton will be quite destroyed.
Emma’s reflections regarding the ball do her credit, as her pleasure is largely selfless: she delights in the agreement between her and Mr. Knightley, the thwarting of the Eltons’ rudeness, and the healing of Harriet.
Frank arrives at Hartfield unexpectedly, with a frightened and pale Harriet on his arm. It turns out that Harriet and a friend had been accosted by a gypsy child, begging for money, on their walk. Her friend had run away, but Harriet was unable to escape. More gypsies surrounded her, when Frank arrived on the scene and chased them away. He then escorted her to Hartfield.
The episode dramatizes the vulnerability that Harriet experiences as a young, unmarried lady with no man to "protect" her. She is physically helpless and prey to the gypsies, a vagabond group that lay outside Austen’s social system altogether. Their intrusion into the domestic realism of Highbury is as puzzling as it is dramatic.
Once Harriet’s safety is assured, Emma considers with some pleasure that the adventure may spark attraction between Harriet and Frank—though she resolves that she will not actively involve herself. News of the episode speeds throughout Highbury, alarming Mr. Woodhouse, but the gypsies soon take off. The gossip subsides into an exciting story Emma tells her nephews.
Despite her resolution to refrain from meddling in others’ love lives, Emma’s active imagination continues to envision matches. Emma’s fancy forms from the exciting incident of the gypsies a love story conforming to the conventions of the romantic melodrama genre.