Harriet arrives at Hartfield some time later, and reveals to Emma her intentions to dispose of all former “tokens of affection” from Mr. Elton that she has previously cherished: a bit of bandage she gave Mr. Elton to bind his finger, and the remnant of a discarded pencil he once used. Harriet declares her shame that she ever thought him so perfect, and she throws these silly trinkets into the fire.
The extent of Harriet’s folly and devotion regarding Mr. Elton becomes clear, as we learn the “tokens of affection” she has been cherishing—pieces of rubbish. The episode reveals the extent of Harriet’s initial ridiculous enchantment with Mr. Elton, her current disillusionment with him, and Emma’s unknowing damage to her friend’s feelings.
Harriet then declares her decision to never marry, as the one whom she now admires is too far above her. Emma believes she means Frank, and she eagerly affirms that Harriet’s feelings are understandable, given the service he rendered her. Neither Harriet nor Emma ever explicitly mention the gentleman in question by name; Harriet refers to his rescue with warmth, and Emma encourages her to proceed with caution but allow herself hope—there have been matches of greater disparity yet.
Though Harriet’s infatuation has been long lasting, it is quickly replaced. Emma attempts to be more discreet and less involved in the new match, but ironically this discretion in discussing Harriet’s new preference actually creates more opportunity for misperception, as Harriet is in fact referring to Mr. Knightley.