Welcome to Volume II, where we acquire two new characters who have nothing whatsoever to do with one another, only it turns out that they do. Also, we all get saddled with Mrs. Elton once Mr. Elton returns from his
Our two new non-Elton characters are, of course, Jane Fairfax (niece to Miss Bates) and Frank Churchill (son of Mr. Weston, being raised by his dead wife's family - his last name is Churchill so that he can inherit their fortune). Interesting how Austen plays with orphans and/or pseudo-orphans in this book. There's Emma, whose mother is dead, who was raised by her father with the help of Mrs. Weston, and Frank Churchill, whose mother is dead, who was raised by other family, and Jane Fairfax, BOTH of whose parents are dead, who was raised by Miss Bates with the help of Colonel Campbell, a friend of her deceased father.
As it turns out, however, Jane Fairfax is coming to town for a stay because her position as companion to Colonel Campbell's daughter has come to an end by virtue of the other girl's marriage. And then she might become a governess, which is painted as a fate at least as bad as death. Moreover, once she gets to town, it turns out that she has actually met Frank Churchill, who has long been a subject of curiosity in Highbury. She is not particularly forthcoming with information about him, however. Like any good mystery writer, Austen allows characters to infer that either Jane's not all that well-acquainted or not that interested in him, since she has little to say.
Not all that long after Jane Fairfax moves to Highbury, Frank Churchill decides to pay a (long overdue) visit to his father and Mrs. Weston. He of course feels obliged to call on Jane Fairfax right away, thanks to their prior acquaintance. And he pretty much calls on Miss Bates and her household daily after that, out of the goodness of his heart. Or something. Again, this is all Austen setting her clues in plain sight, even though they are easily overlooked. Brilliant use of mystery-writing techniques, no?
Of course, Emma decides to take an unreasonable dislike to Jane Fairfax. And Frank Churchill is such a pleasant flirt that she takes an instant liking to him. And since Emma likes Frank so much, Mr. Knightley likes him less and less. (Mr. Knightley is truly not the most self-aware of creatures at this point in the book.)
There is, of course, an actual mystery that arises in the middle of Volume II, when a pianoforté arrives for Jane Fairfax from an unidentified donor. Mr. Knightley declares it a thoughtless gift, since it's too large for the Bates's drawing room and will be difficult for Jane to take with her. Emma speculates (with Frank Churchill) that it came from Jane's friend's husband, which is most improper, and he does little to dissuade her. (Another case of clues in plain sight, although it doesn't seem so at the moment.)
Emma briefly entertains (in Chapter 13 of Volume II, aka Chapter 31) the idea of her being in love with Frank Churchill, but she quickly sets it aside. It appears to Mr. Knightley, however, that perhaps Emma is in love with Frank, which causes him despair (even though he tries to shove it aside). Meanwhile, Mrs. Weston thinks that Mr. Knightley is in love with Jane Fairfax, which causes Emma to fall into a bit of despair (again, not the most self-aware character at this point in the novel), and Harriet is actually developing a crush on Mr. Knightley, although nobody knows it yet.
And the Eltons are, of course, smug and insufferable. As they are wont to be.
And that is, in a rather small nutshell, Volume II. Shocking, but there you have it.