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Emma enters the Bates’ sitting room and finds Frank occupied with fixing Mrs. Bates’s glasses and Jane seated at the piano. Frank asks Jane questions about how she imagines the piano came to her, and his comment, “True affection only could have prompted it,” makes Jane blush. Believing that Frank is teasing Jane unkindly about Mr. Dixon, Emma whispers that he should stop, and she regrets having shared her speculations about Jane with him. Mr. Knightley stops by to check on Jane’s health but refuses to come in when he hears that Frank is there.
While the Woodhouses are visiting Randalls, Frank and Emma work on planning a ball so they can finish the dancing inaugurated at the Coles’. They decide the room at Randalls is too small. Mr. Woodhouse privately tells Mrs. Weston his concern that Frank is so thoughtless about opening and shutting doors that he exposes Emma, Harriet, and Mrs. Weston to dangerous drafts. The next solution proposed by Frank on behalf of Mr. Weston is that the ball be given at the Crown Inn. Though Frank does a poor job reassuring Mr. Woodhouse that this plan will not give them all colds, Emma comforts her father, and she agrees to the plan. There are further practical difficulties, and Frank proposes he go fetch Miss Bates along with her niece, whom Frank admits he does not immediately recollect, for advice. By the time he returns, the difficulties have been resolved, the date of the ball has been set, and Frank secures from Emma a promise to dance the first two dances with him.
Emma is worried that Frank’s aunt, Mrs. Churchill, will refuse Frank permission to stay on for the ball, which is scheduled for a few days after his visit is scheduled to end. To everyone’s relief, he receives this permission. Only Mr. Knightley refuses to look forward to the ball: he does not seem interested in dancing. Emma takes Knightley’s diffidence as further proof that he is not interested in Jane, who in a rare moment of openness confesses how much she looks forward to the ball.
Two days later, Frank is called back to Enscombe because his aunt is ill. The ball is postponed indefinitely, and Frank comes to Emma to say goodbye. He is clearly dejected and speaks haltingly—for a moment, it seems as if he is going to declare something serious. Interrupted by his father, Frank departs, and Emma is depressed. Highbury society is, it seems for Emma, severely diminished without Frank’s charms. Emma concludes that she must be “a little in love” with Frank after all.
During Emma and Frank’s visit to the Bates’, Emma, Frank, and Jane are all aware that the dialogue taking place has a subtext, but Austen crafts Frank’s words so that the subtexts Emma and Jane read differ from one another. At this point in the novel, our misperceptions are likely to closely match Emma’s, and we follow her in believing that Frank’s teasing of Jane about the origins of her piano cruelly refers to Mr. Dixon.
Though Emma gossips maliciously about Jane, her selfless protectiveness of Jane when she believes Frank to be teasing her shows that Emma’s willingness to amuse herself at the expense of another has limits. When we later learn that the piano is actually a gift from Frank, Jane’s secret fiancé, we realize that his teasing is more good-natured, emphasizing his own gesture of affection.
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