This scene takes place on the carriage ride following the ball in season one, episode two, where all witnessed Irene Forsyte and Phillip Bosinney dancing in lovestruck bliss. I have a habit of finding scenes where the characters make me want to facedesk and reworking them. Usually in my head.
"Well?" Irene finally snapped, unable to bear the silence.
Soames didn't so much as flinch, continuing his rigid inspection of the carriage in front of his eyes. "Beg pardon?"
"I know you have something to say, so say it."
A tense minute passed by in an even more unbearable silence. When he finally spoke she jumped slightly in spite of her husband's mild tone, surprised. "I misjudged you as a woman."
The words shouldn't have stung, but they did. She was glad, though, for it gave her the opening she needed. "No surprise there, since you made your judgments about me, and our marriage, from the moment we first met. I don't recall having any say in those judgments."
He continued as if he hadn't heard. "I assumed you'd have the decency to cuckold me away from the eyes of the world. Barring that, at the least in some place other than a well-attended ball with the eyes of my entire family and half the elite of London upon you."
"I've slept with no one else!" Irene protested, aghast at the unfairness of his words. "What do you think of me, that you'd say such things?" Instead of an answer the carriage settled back into its frozen silence, only the clatter of the wheels and the clop of hooves to be heard. Finally she couldn't stand it anymore. "And what if I was? Though I'm not! The world already knows your marriage is loveless!"
His eyes finally drifted her way, his head slowly turning until he regarded her with frightening intensity. "My marriage?" he repeated softly.
"It's certainly not ours! I had no part in it."
"Except to say yes." She opened her mouth to speak, but his terrible eyes silenced her. "What a fool I was. No woman ever makes such conditions as you made when I proposed to you. Freedom if you desired it, with no guilt if you cannot bring yourself to love me? How did that not raise an alarm within the deepest corners of my soul? I must have been blinded by infatuation to propose again under the circumstances."
"I tried to love you!" she protested.
Soames's face twisted with some dark emotion. Disgust, perhaps, or loathing. "Did you? No. the more I think on it, the more I must decide that you never intended to love me. That you in fact disliked me from the start, and it was your poverty that drove you into this marriage. This frigid, silent, wretched marriage, where you hold your misery over me like a condemnation even though you came to me to say yes and I've done everything I could to make you happy!" At the word "everything" his cold, flat tone changed to violent rage for the space of a heartbeat, then settled once more. He looked away, as if he couldn't bear to see her.
"You misjudge me yet again," Irene said. "First unfaithful, now loveless. Perhaps it's you who's been unfaithful. You who never loved me at all. Not the real me, at least, only my body and pretty manners that fit in so well with your family's rigid pride. Perhaps it's you who chases after whores while silently hating me."
His head moved to once again face the front of the carriage, eyes closed, and he would've seemed almost asleep were it not for his rigid posture and his fist clenched on the pommel of his cane across his knees. "Whores," he repeated. "They trade sex for money, so I've heard. And there is no love in the equation, only pragmatism." He paused for just long enough to make his words all the more stinging. "What does that make you?"
She hissed and drew away, huddling into the corner of the carriage, and twisted enough to slap him soundly. "How dare you! First unfaithful, then loveless, and now labeled among the ranks of the lowest of low women?" She slapped him again.
Soames lurched forward, pounding on the front of the carriage. "Hamish, stop the carriage," he roared. The sheer volume of his voice shocked Irene, and she almost fell out of her seat as the carriage clattered to a halt.
Now he turned, crouched before her like some primal beast, eyes shadowed and radiating fury. "Winifred loved you like a sister. She cherished your friendship. You not only betray your sacred vows, but an innocent young girl who trusted you. You compound that betrayal by twirling in the arms of her fiancee, laughing and happy for the first time in months, before the eyes of all her peers. Her humiliation is total, and unless she has rare backbone she'll flee to the countryside in exile and see her prospects for the future greatly reduced. My mother has called you cold, my father disapproved of our private life, but until now I defended you. Now I see you for the contemptible creature you are."
Yes, there it was. Irene had finally found the place within herself where his words could no longer hurt her. The husband she loathed, with his defiling hands and smug silences. "Perhaps, like her uncle, she should blame her own insistence on chasing someone who didn't want her, rather than the person her fiancee did want."
Soames's fist gripping the cane jerked towards her and she flinched back, crying out. But no blow landed. Instead the door to the carriage was thrown open with a sharp bang. He pointed at it, arm shaking.
"Out, woman. Do not come to any of my houses, or to the houses of any of my family. In time my barrister will track you down with papers for the annulment of our sham of a marriage. Until then I wish you all the happiness you deserve." He made it sound the worst curse imaginable.
She hesitated at the threshold. In all her imaginings she hadn't considered something like this ever happening. "You promised you would do everything in your power to make me happy," she accused.
"Yes. I imagine there are some promises you made which you've likewise broken."
Desperation began its creep into her soul, worse than she'd felt since that day in the rain when all her futures collapsed into this bleak existence. "I have no money, nor even a proper coat or shoes."
For a moment she thought he'd refuse her, but then he reached into his waistcoat and she heard a soft jingle of coins. He drew out several gold sovereigns and pressed them into her palm. "Five pounds," he growled. "Thereabouts the price you paid for your contraceptive."
She stared at him in mounting horror. He knew. "I-"
"You purchased it with your father's inheritance allowance, I'm given to understand. Likely so you wouldn't have to worry about making an accounting of it to me with the generous stipend I afford you." He laughed grimly. "Well, woman, let no one ever say I didn't look out for my wife financially, compensating her for her purchases even when she set out to deceive and betray me. Perhaps the contraceptive will come in useful for cleansing yourself afterwards when you're forced to become one of those whores you despise in order to find food and shelter. Perhaps you'll finally recognize your kinship to them."
Irene closed her fist around the coins with a sharp cry, struck him in the face with their extra weight, then turned and fled the carriage. She'd gone nearly a hundred paces before she finally stumbled on her heels and went to one knee. She looked back over her shoulder, her pride stinging more than her knee. But the carriage was rattling away, unconcerned by either her departure or her fall.
She stared after it until it was out of sight, feeling helpless and sick.
How could she have gone from such happiness not an hour ago to this wretched state?