Jane Austen does not tell us when and how Darcy discovered that Elizabeth was at Hunsford. We only know that somehow he found out. Here is how I envision the scene.
As the carriage turned onto the drive that led to Rosings, Darcy looked out the window and let out a gruff laugh. “I do not believe it!”
“What is it?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked as he leaned forward to see what had his cousin’s attention. He saw someone peer across the lane, give a quick bow, and then turn to walk with brisk, but rather laborious steps towards the parsonage. “Who was that?”
“You have met him?” the colonel asked as the carriage came to a halt.
“Unfortunately, I have.”
“I do not like the sound of that. You do not approve of him? Have you heard him deliver a rather blasphemous sermon? Have you witnessed him exhibit improper behaviour?” Eyebrows raised, he gave his cousin a pointed look. “I must hear it all!”
Darcy casually shrugged his shoulders. At least he hoped it was a casual shrug. He now wished he had not said anything. “I met him while in Hertfordshire. There is nothing wrong with him other than some oddities that I found annoying.” He hoped that would be the end of it.
“How did you come to meet him in Hertfordshire?”
Darcy felt himself tense. He was about to reply when the carriage door opened. “Ah, our aunt awaits.” He extended his hand. “Shall we?”
The two men stepped out and stretched their arms and legs. “Oh, to be on the ground again! That ride was unbearable!” Colonel Fitzwilliam had never been one to endure a bumpy carriage ride.
Darcy patted him on the back. “I am quite surprised by your lack of backbone, Fitzwilliam. I cannot imagine how you tolerate the discomforts of being on the battle-field.”
“Ha!” the colonel exclaimed. “You are one to talk about tolerating the discomforts of a battle-field! You have yet to face head on the one battle that presents itself every Easter!”
Darcy clenched his jaw, but said nothing.
“And being silent will not suit, with me or with Anne! You must propose… to someone! That is all there is to it! If you do not want to offer for Anne, at least offer for someone else!”
Darcy stopped and turned towards his cousin. “There will be no proposal – to Anne or anyone else – in the near future!”
Fitzwilliam shook his head. “I do not understand, Darcy. Do you not realize that the longer you go without finding a suitable and eligible match, the more Anne will believe you will one day marry her?”
Darcy turned sharply and began walking towards the front door. “I have nothing more to say on the matter!”
As he marched away from his cousin, he now wished he had answered his cousin’s question about Mr. Collins. He clenched his jaw as he contemplated that both conversations had at their very core one Elizabeth Bennet, and that was what had him so disconcerted. He had tried for months to forget her, but now he was faced with being both in company with her cousin, as well with his cousin, whom he was promised to marry.
Their arrival was usually the most trying time for Darcy, as he attempted to be civil to Anne, but not give her too much reason to suspect he had any intention of asking for her hand. It was always easy for Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had no claims on her. He was also naturally ebullient, and had her smiling and chuckling in no time.
After the initial greeting, the men sat down with the ladies. The drawing room had the window coverings drawn, which always angered Darcy, who believed the sun would improve Anne’s spirits, while her mother believed they would have a detrimental effect on her.
It was then that Colonel Fitzwilliam, who apparently had not forgotten about Mr. Collins, said, “I believe we noticed your clergyman across the lane. I understand he is new since we were here last.”
“Yes, Mr. Collins has been here less than a year.”
The colonel leaned forward with his hands clasped. “And are you pleased with him?”
“I am. He gladly receives my generously given advice and correction, and his wife certainly knows her place.” A satisfied smile curved Lady Catherine’s lips.
“His wife?” Darcy asked.
“Yes, he married a few months back. He met her in Hertfordshire.” Suddenly Lady Catherine frowned and glared at her nephew. “Oh, that is right. They did claim some such acquaintance with you. I was most seriously displeased!”
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s eyes widened. “Displeased that they claimed an acquaintance with Darcy?”
Lady Catherine’s fingers trailed across the neckline of her dress, and she sent Darcy a pointed look. “I found it quite objectionable that they were in your company much of the autumn while I must settle for a short visit in the spring.”
Darcy schooled his features as he attempted to determine who Mr. Collins might have married. A wave of dread passed through him that it possibly could be Elizabeth! And if not Elizabeth, one of her sisters.
“I had no idea when I left Hertfordshire in November that he had a partiality for any of the ladies.” He found it difficult to breathe as he waited for his aunt to reveal the name of Mr. Collins’ bride.
Colonel Fitzwilliam leaned over and whispered, “Perhaps he married the young lady you felt was unsuited for your friend. Then you would no longer need to worry about him!”
Darcy did not feel that discovering Mr. Collins had married Miss Jane Bennet would ease his mind.
“Her name is Charlotte, and she is the daughter of Sir William Lucas. A good match, I believe, for Mr. Collins.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam glanced at Darcy with a raised brow as if to ask whether this might be the lady in question. Darcy gave his head a slight shake.
Darcy felt a great sense of relief at the news, but he readily recollected the close friendship Miss Lucas had with Elizabeth. He wondered what he would have done if it had been Elizabeth who had married Mr. Collins. The thought appalled him, yet he reprimanded himself for those feelings which still seemed as strong as they had ever been.
“Was Mr. Collins walking this way?” Lady Catherine asked.
Colonel Fitzwilliam leaned back in the chair. “No. He appeared to notice the carriage and then hurried back to the parsonage.”
“Most likely to inform his wife and guests. You ought to pay them a call in the next day or two.”
“Guests?” Darcy asked.
Lady Catherine waved her hand. “Her sister and a friend from Hertfordshire. No one of any consequence.”
Could that be Elizabeth? Darcy felt his chest tighten, and he stood up abruptly and walked to the window. He knew all the colour had drained from his face and he attempted to calm any and all outward signs of unease and impatience. His head and heart seemed to be engaged in a great battle. He was not certain whether he wanted his head to triumph and find out it was not her, or his heart to triumph and discover that she was right next door at the parsonage.
He turned to face his aunt. “And what is… what is her friend’s name?” He held his breath once he posed the question, but he need not have asked, for somehow he knew, deep down inside, what she was going to say.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”