Emma’s good opinion of Frank Churchill is injured when he makes a day trip to London just to have his hair cut. Though Emma does not feel inclined to give up her vow to remain single, she decides that Frank is pleasing enough that she does not mind being associated with him in other people’s minds. Mr. Knightley thinks Frank is a silly young man, just as he had suspected.
Meanwhile, an invitation from the Coles, successful tradespeople who live in Highbury, creates a conundrum for Emma. She had originally decided that she would not accept an invitation from the nouveau-riche family, but when everyone except the Woodhouses receives an invitation to a dinner party at the Coles’ home, Emma feels left out. When an invitation arrives, she decides to accept it.
Emma arrives at the Coles’ party behind Mr. Knightley. Because Knightley usually walks, Emma is surprised that he has come in his carriage. At dinner, it is revealed that Jane Fairfax has received the mysterious gift of a pianoforte. People assume the piano is from Colonel Campbell, but Emma tells Frank she suspects that it is a gift from Mr. Dixon. When Jane arrives later, she blushes when questioned about the piano.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Weston tells Emma that Mr. Knightley brought his carriage so that he could convey Jane home. Mrs. Weston suggests that a match may be forming between Jane and Mr. Knightley, but Emma resists this supposition vigorously, explaining that she cannot bear the thought of Mr. Knightley marrying because then her nephew, George and Isabella’s son Henry, will not be able to inherit Donwell Abbey, the Knightley estate in the town of the same name. Mrs. Weston suspects that Mr. Knightley is the one who sent Jane the pianoforte.
Emma and Jane sing and play the piano for the company, with Frank accompanying. When Frank persuades Jane to sing one more song after her voice has begun to grow hoarse, Mr. Knightley intervenes. Emma questions Mr. Knightley about the carriage and pianoforte. His answers convince her that he did not send the gift, but do not enable her to decide if he has feelings for Jane. When impromptu dancing begins, she is relieved that he does not ask Jane to dance. Emma is also pleased that Frank immediately asks her and not Jane for a dance. There is time for only two dances, however, before the party breaks up. Frank comments to Emma that he is lucky the dancing had to end; otherwise he would have found himself asking Jane Fairfax for a dance.
Emma is thoroughly pleased with her evening at the Coles, but she is uncertain about the appropriateness of telling Frank about her suspicions about Jane or acknowledging the superiority of Jane’s musical abilities. At the Coles’ party, Harriet heard that Mr. Martin had dined with the Cox family, and there is a rumor that a Cox daughter would like to marry Mr. Martin. To distract and protect Harriet, Emma accompanies her on a shopping trip. They then decide to pay a visit to the Bates household and run into Frank and Mrs. Weston on their way. The visit seems to have been Frank’s idea, but he offers to stay with Emma and send Mrs. Weston to make the visit on her own. Emma sends him along, knowing that he will later come see her at Hartfield, but Miss Bates then comes into the shop to ask Emma to come give her opinion of Jane’s new pianoforte. In her rambling, Miss Bates reveals that Mr. Knightley has sent his last apples of the season to Jane, who is particularly fond of them.