Once again, a chapter in which Austen hides her clues in plain sight. This is another of those chapters in which, to borrow a term from one of Jenn Hubbard's comments to an earlier post, we see Austen setting up all her dominoes.
About that ball
Emma first frets that Frank will not be given permission to stay, but it turns out that while his aunt at Enscombe is not happy about it, she allows it. Looking for something else to fret about, Emma decides to be put out at Mr Knightley's disinterest in the ball.
Mr Knightley: If the Westons want to have a ball, I'll go, but I'd much rather stay home and look over the accounts for my estate. *sings "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me"*
Meanwhile, it turns out that Jane Fairfax really LOVES the idea of the ball. Moreso than Emma. At least as much if not moreso than Frank Churchill. Quoth she, "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, I hope nothing may happen to prevent the ball. What a disappointment it would be! I do look forward to it, I own, with very great pleasure." She is open and animated, even. What were the odds?
"The over-throw of everything"
Alas, a mere two days after Frank is given permission to stay, he is summoned home. Poor Mrs Churchill is ill. Only Frank knows that she's only ill when she wants something, so he isn't too concerned about it. Still, he must away. Emma is alerted about the situation by a note from Mrs Weston, who tells us that Frank has only enough time to take his leave of a few friends in Highbury, and then he'll probably stop at Hartfield, and then he must away.
Emma was ready for her visitor some time before he appeared; but if this reflected at all upon his impatience, his sorrowful look and total want of spirits when he did come might redeem him. He felt the going away almost too much to speak of it. His dejection was most evident. He sat really lost in thought for the first few minutes; and when rousing himself, it was only to say,Emma is sorry the ball has been delayed, but gratified at having been right about it not happening. Still, she says, "I would much rather have been merry than wise."
"Of all horrid things, leave-taking is the worst."
"But you will come again," said Emma. "This will not be your only visit to Randalls."
"Ah!--(shaking his head)--the uncertainty of when I may be able to return!--I shall try for it with a zeal!--It will be the object of all my thoughts and cares!
Frank waxes quite rhapsodic about Highbury and the people who get to remain there, discussing how precious every moment of his visit was to him, and he starts to tell Emma something confidential, but she, suspecting he is going to speak words of love, puts him off. He sighs, obviously trying to make out her tone and meaning, and then his father appears, leaving Emma to think things through.
Listlessness = love
She has decided that Frank must be very much in love with her, and may have been on the brink of proposing prior to his father's arrival. Once he's gone, taking his newness and charm and enthusiasm with him, Emma feels let down - and surmises that perhaps she's a little in love with Frank Churchill after all. "This sensation of listlessness, weariness, stupidity, this disinclination to sit down and employ myself, this feeling of every thing's being dull and insipid about the house!--I must be in love[.]" LOL!
Her thoughts immediately turn from the possibility of love with Frank Churchill to Mr Knightley, who must be happy that the ball has been cancelled. Mr Knightley does not triumph in it, however; he's sorry that Emma did not have an opportunity to dance. And poor Jane Fairfax has been so ill with headaches that Miss Bates figures she wouldn't have made it to the ball anyhow.
Those of you re-reading the book should feel free to post spoilers in the comments if you care to discuss them, but please mark them spoilery up front so first-time readers have the option of avoiding them.