Some time later, while Emma takes a reflective walk in the garden, she encounters Mr. Knightley, just returned from London. Concerned from his serious air that he wants to share his feelings about Harriet, Emma directs the topic to Frank and Jane’s secret engagement. Mr. Knightley, however, already knows and has come to comfort her. Emma confesses she never loved Frank and regrets her flirtation with him.
Emma interprets Mr. Knightley’s behavior in light of Harriet’s belief in his reciprocated affection. Mr. Knightley misreads Emma’s agitation as related to Frank, as opposed to himself. Unlike prior misperceptions, this one is inspired not by self-interest, but humility; neither believes they possess their beloved’s heart.
Mr. Knightley begins that he envies Frank, and Emma cuts him short to avoid hearing about Harriet. Mr. Knightley is mortified, and Emma feels bad; she decides she will hear him as a friend. To her great astonishment, Mr. Knightley declares his love for her; she, in turn, confesses hers. Both of them are ecstatic, having gone from believing their beloved attached to another to realizing their beloved is theirs. They return from the walk engaged.
The misperception is finally brought to a delightful close, as all of the signs of hesitation turn out to be the result of returned love; ironically, Emma’s attempt to silence Mr. Knightley from speaking of Harriet discouraged his declaration of love for her, and had she not decided to selflessly hear him out as a friend he might not have made his feelings known to her.