Miyoung had not stopped crying since morning and her tears have run dry but her father has not shown any signs of relenting. This has never been the case for Miyoung which means her father is truly angered this time, but she knows she can’t stop pleading.
“I am so sorry, Father. I really am. I have done wrong but I won’t do it again, Father,” Miyoung says between dry sobs and breathy heaves.
“You helped outsiders deceive your own family, Miyoung. You are siding with cheats against me. Against your brother. I am very disappointed.”
Desperation hangs over Miyoung as she kneels on the floor. Taeyeon will be sent to the magistrate for fraud if she does not succeed in changing her father’s mind. She had thought that hearing Taeyeon’s heart-breaking story would sooth his anger and make him change his mind about persecuting her but it had not. Instead, he had ordered Taeyeon and Heechul to be locked up in separate rooms and if it were not for her timely fainting spell, they would have been sent to court there and then.
“I won’t do it again, I promise.”
“You are still lying to me!” her father shouts, his eyes flashing with so much anger that she cowers in fright.
“W-What lie? I-I’m not lying.”
“Do you think I lost my brain? Or do you think I don’t have the eyes to see that both you and the cheat have something going on?”
All of Miyoung’s body heat ups and abandons her in that moment, leaving her trembling, shivering from the cold harsh reality. “W-What do you mean?” she whimpers, unwilling to let go of the last bit of hope that they can keep their true feelings under wraps.
“Now that we are alone, I am giving you one final chance to tell me what the cheat did not tell me.”
“Father . . .”
“I am not unreasonable. I know the cheat has reasons for leaving some truths out of her admission. And fortunately for you, she is smart enough to leave it out. But I want to hear your admission. I cannot accept being lied to by my very own daughter.”
The game is up. Her father knows. But how?
“I have feelings for Taeyeon and she has feelings for me. Pure feelings. It is genuine care and concern. We have not done anything that we shouldn’t.”
“Are you saying that it is perfectly fine for you to get in bed with her?”
“We did not do anything more than sleep. Real sleep. I went to her room to talk because I wasn’t able to see her during the day. It grew late and I fell asleep. Taeyeon must have moved me to the bed so that I would be comfortable.”
“Are you sure all you did was talk?”
Why does her father want her to admit these things? She knows he knows the truth. He knows she knows. Must she be forced to bring these things to light?
“We . . . we kissed.”
“Is that all?”
“We only hugged and kissed. We did not do more than that.”
“Is that the complete truth?”
Miyoung chokes on a sob as she nods. She wishes there were more to confess to, but hugs and kisses are all she has shared with Taeyeon.
“I gave you a horse as a gift to keep you company on days when you might feel lonely. I did not give you the horse to help you go on escapades with another girl.”
How did Father find out about my peach blossom dates? Miyoung’s blood freezes as the only possible name pops up. Lim Dayu? Did he betray her? It is difficult to believe. But if she were to consider how loyal he is to her father . . .
“You are lucky your virtue is still intact. No one will hear of this and you will accept Young Master Fan as soon as the cheat is put away in jail in a faraway town.”
Miyoung shakes her head in despair. “No . . . please . . . let her go . . .”
“Stop begging for her release. She does not deserve to go free after cheating so many people of their money.”
“She did not cheat people of their money. Her paintings are worth every cent she charges and everyone is happy to pay for it.”
“She cheated people into believing she is a man. They would never have given her that much if they had known she is actually a girl.”
Her father’s words strike Miyoung at a particularly disturbing place.
“So her paintings are worth less because she was born a girl? And if she were born a boy, her paintings would be somehow worth more? The two paintings would be exactly the same in every way but one would be worth more simply because the painter was born with different body parts?” Miyoung is close to raising her voice but doing so would not go down well with her father. For Taeyeon’s sake, she must stay as calm as possible. “Father, you have always taught me the principle of ‘一分钱一分货’. You’ve always said that higher quality goods would naturally be worth more money and paying less money means you cannot expect the same quality. So how can the same painting be priced differently? Why is gender the determiner when it comes to Taeyeon? I certainly remember you praising the painting at dinner. And you have been showing the painting off to all our visitors. Is that not enough proof that Taeyeon’s paintings are worth the price?”
Her father’s breathing is growing heavier and heavier as he stares at her in silence. It makes her nervous and afraid. Did she just make things worse for Taeyeon?
“You are still siding with the cheat,” he says at last, his voice low and ominous.
“I am looking at the matter objectively. It is my stand that the worth of a painting should be based on its quality and not the gender of the painter. So by that logic, Taeyeon did not cheat anyone of their money.”
“She chose to disguise herself as a man because she knew that people would be more willing to pay a higher price for her paintings. Her fraud is premeditated.”
“She did not choose. She had to do it. She cannot change the way people think so the only way is to turn herself into a man. But the quality of her paintings cannot be diminished simply because she is found to be a girl. You can’t take back your opinion of the painting just because you realized she is female. It’s not being fair to the painting.”
“So is it fair for the guest of my estate to violate the innocence of my most precious daughter? Is that how she repays my kindness and hospitality?”
“I pursued her. I thought she was a boy and pursued her. But she had always kept her distance. She never gave me any room to advance. In fact, she rejected me several times. It was never her intention to violate my innocence. I have to take sole responsibility for my actions.”
Miyoung can feel the last slithers of hope dissipating as her father shakes his head. “You have been poisoned by the cheat. I don’t know what kind of words she has been feeding you but you are not the daughter I have raised. A stray girl like her has to be locked up and kept away from innocent girls like you.” Miyoung opens her mouth to protest but her father raises his hand. “That’s enough. I have heard enough. You are obviously smitten by the con artist and you are completely on her side. But I won’t allow it to continue. You will marry into the Fan family and forget about this unfortunate incident. I don’t want to hear you say another word on this matter.”
“Father, please . . .” Miyoung lunges forward to grab on to her father’s retreating legs.
“Miyoung. Let go.”
“Please! Let her go!”
“Lim Dayu!” her father shouts and the young man enters the room. Miyoung twists her head to look away. She does not want to see the face of her betrayer. “Call the maids. Put Miyoung to bed.”
Without a sound, Lim Dayu leaves and returns with two maids by his side. The maids pull Miyoung away from her father with Lim Dayu’s help and despite her efforts in holding on, her hands eventually lose their strength and grip.
“Make sure she stays in her room. If any of you let her out, you will face severe punishment.”
“Yes, Master,” the maids chorus.
“Miyoung, if you wish for your maids to suffer because of you, by all means, try to sneak out of this room,” says her father before leaving the room.
Miyoung knows her father’s strategy to keep her in will work. There is no way she can bear being the cause for her maids’ punishment. So with that simple threat, her father has ensured her confinement to her room. At that thought, she throws herself onto her bed and cries into her pillow. A presence comes to stand beside her bed. She does not look up. She knows it is Lim Dayu without having to look and she does not want to see him ever again.
“Young Mistress Hwang—”
“Get out!” Miyoung screams. But instead of doing as she commands, she hears Lim Dayu sending her maids away to fetch hot water and towels. “I asked you to get out. Not my maids!”
“Shh . . . give me a chance to speak.”
Miyoung whirls around, anger spilling from every pore. “Why should I listen to the person who betrayed me?”
Lim Dayu’s eyes grow wide and he shakes his head with fervour. “Me?”
“You. Yes. You. Who else could have told my father about the afternoons at the peach blossom trees!”
Lim Dayu’s head is shaking so hard that he is in danger of twisting it. “I didn’t. I swear. It wasn’t me.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Young Mistress Hwang, I would never betray you in this way. Especially now that I know Taenggu is a girl and after hearing your touching love story.”
Miyoung stares, unsure if she should believe him or not. But at this moment, Lim Dayu does not stand to gain anything from lying. So is he telling the truth?
“Young Mistress Hwang, I swear, I am here to help you, not to betray you.”
Miyoung stays quiet, her eyes still narrowed and looking suspiciously at the man she had trusted completely before. It is hard to trust him after finding out that someone had told her father about her peach blossom rendezvous. “Why would you want to help me? And how can you help me?”
“I want to help you because I can understand how you feel. And—”
“Nonsense. How could you possibly understand how I feel right now.”
“Young Mistress Hwang, I can understand . . . because I am in love with Taenggu too.”