Mrs. Weston is expecting a baby, and Emma and Mr. Weston plan a quiet "exploring" trip to Box Hill. Augusta has of course been long wanting to make such a trip, and Mr. Weston suggests that his party and that of the Eltons unite, an idea that Emma does not like but accepts. When a lame carriage horse throws everything into "sad uncertainty," George answers Augusta that she should come to Donwell for strawberries instead. This immediately becomes a party, for which she insists that she do all the inviting of guests. But George is firm, saying that the only married woman he will ever "allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell" is Mrs. Knightley — "and, till she is in being, I will manage such matters myself." Augusta tries to pass this off humorously, finally only making an ass of herself. Later the lame horse mends and the trip to Box Hill is settled for the day after the party at Donwell.
Emma has not been to Donwell for some time, and on the day of the party she looks over the place with "honest pride and complacency" since it is a "family" estate now because of the nephews who will inherit it. Except for Frank, everyone is there as they gather strawberries and find seats in the shade. Augusta badgers Jane about accepting "a most desirable situation" until Jane suggests a walk to see the gardens.
During this activity Emma sees George and Harriet strolling and talking by themselves, and she joins them before they all go indoors to eat. Frank still has not arrived when all but Emma, who stays behind with Mr. Woodhouse, go to see the old Abbey fish ponds. Emma is alone in the hallway when Jane appears "with a look of escape," saying that she is going to walk home. She will not accept the offer of a carriage, giving as reason that she is "wearied in spirits" and needs the walk. Shortly after she goes, Frank arrives out of humour," observing that he has met Jane on the way and that he will not eat because it is so hot. Even as she gets him to eat something, Emma is glad to be through being in love with him. He tells her that he needs a change, that he is sick of England and wants to go abroad; but when the rest of the party return, his party-going inclination leads him to say that if Emma wants him to stay and join the group to Box Hill the next day, he will. She smiled her acceptance.
As this chapter well indicates, George is becoming more important in the plot. After his conversation with Augusta, it should be clear to the reader (if it has not already been) that he too is interested in marriage. He has earlier stated that he values good sense, strength, and openness in a wife: He now makes plain the kind of honor and consideration he will give her. At the same time he rather quietly but surely demonstrates his ability to deal with a wife who is overbearing and silly. When Augusta wishes she had a donkey to ride dust-free to the party, he says that Donwell Lane is never dusty but adds, "Come on a donkey, however, if you prefer it . . . I would wish every thing to be as much to your taste as possible."
A notable contrast is seen between Emma and Augusta during the party at Donwell. Augusta is still the officious and obnoxious manager, forcing her "help" upon poor Jane. On the other hand, almost as if Donwell has a sobering and symbolic effect on her, Emma not once tries any of her usual scheming. Once, when Frank is mentioned, she looks at Harriet only to observe that she behaves very well and betrays no emotion; and that is as close as she comes to willfulness, except for one later mere observation. Otherwise she seems to be quite at peace with herself and ready to offer understanding and pity to Jane. Obviously, if she wished, for Harriet's sake she could urge Frank to accompany them to Box Hill, but she does not do so. The decision to go is strictly Frank's.
The mystery of Jane and Frank is developed only briefly, just a bit to cloud the issue. Jane leaves the party early, but we do not know what has wearied her spirits. When Frank finally arrives, he looks "very deplorable." But being delayed by Mrs. Churchill's illness has never appeared to bother him before, and his being out of humor with the weather is hardly rational. In each case we know only that the man is upset about something.