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Fifth Day, Novel X

[024] So the lady came to an understanding with the beldam, that, as soon as she set eyes on a boy that often came along that street, and of whom the lady gave her a particular description, she would know what she was to do: and thereupon the lady gave her a chunk of salt meat, and bade her God-speed. [025] The beldam before long smuggled into the lady's chamber the boy of whom she had spoken, and not long after another, such being the humour of the lady, who, standing in perpetual dread of her husband, was disposed, in this particular, to make the most of her opportunities. [026] And one of these days, her husband being to sup in the evening with a friend named Ercolano, the lady bade the beldam bring her a boy as pretty and dainty as was to be found in Perugia; and so the beldam forthwith did. [027] But the lady and the boy being set at table to sup, lo, Pietro's voice was heard at the door, bidding open to him. [028] Whereupon the lady gave herself up for dead; but being fain, if she might, to screen the boy, and knowing not where else to convey or conceal him, bestowed him under a hen-coop that stood in a veranda hard by the chamber in which they were supping, and threw over it a sorry mattress that she had that day emptied of its straw; which done she hastened to open the door to her husband; [029]saying to him as he entered: "You have gulped your supper mighty quickly to-night." [030] Whereto Pietro replied: "We have not so much as tasted it." [031] "How so?" enquired the lady. [032] "I will tell thee," said Pietro. "No sooner were we set at table, Ercolano, his wife, and I, than we heard a sneeze close to us, to which, though 'twas repeated, we paid no heed; but as the sneezer continued to sneeze a third, a fourth, a fifth, and many another time to boot, we all began to wonder, [033] and Ercolano, who was somewhat out of humour with his wife, because she had kept us a long time at the door before she opened it, burst out in a sort of rage with: [034] 'What means this? Who is't that thus sneezes?' and made off to a stair hard by, beneath which and close to its foot was a wooden closet, of the sort which, when folk are furnishing their houses, they commonly cause to be placed there, to stow things in upon occasion. [035] And as it seemed to him that the sneezing proceeded thence, he undid the wicket, and no sooner had he opened it than out flew never so strong a stench of brimstone; albeit we had already been saluted by a whiff of it, and complained thereof, but had been put off by the lady with: [036] ''Tis but that a while ago I bleached my veils with brimstone, having sprinkled it on a dish, that they might catch its fumes, which dish I then placed under the stair, so that it still smells a little.'"