Then only did Halil speak. His voice was so deep, gruff, and stern, that those who heard it scarce recognised it for his:
“Leave go of my wife, Ali Kermesh!” cried he.
“Silence thou dog! in another hour thou wilt be hanging up before thine own gate.”
“Once more I ask you—leave go of my wife, Ali Kermesh!”
Instead of answering, the Berber-Bashi would, with one hand, have torn the wife from her husband’s bosom while he clutched hold of Halil with the other, whereupon Halil brought down his fist so heavily on the skull of the Berber-Bashi that he instantly collapsed without uttering a single word.
“What have you done?” cried Janaki in terror. “You have killed the chief barber of the Sultan!”
“Yes, I rather fancy I have,” replied Halil coolly.
Musli rushed towards the prostrate form of Ali Kermesh, felt him all over very carefully, and then turned towards the hearth where the others were sitting.
“Dead he is, there is no doubt about it. He’s as dead as a door-nail. Well, Halil, that was a fine blow of yours I must say. By the Prophet! one does not see a blow like that every day. With your bare hand too! To kill a man with nothing but your empty fist! If a cannon-ball had knocked him over he could not be deader than he is.”
“But what shall we do now?” cried Janaki, looking around him with tremulous terror. “The Sultan is sure to send and make inquiries about his lost Berber-Bashi. It is known that he came here in disguise. The affair cannot long remain hidden.”
“There is no occasion to fear anything,” said Musli reassuringly. “Good counsel is cheap. We can easily find a way out of it. Before the business comes to light, we will go to the Etmeidan and join the Janissaries. There let them send and fetch us if they dare, for we shall be in a perfectly safe place anyhow. Why, don’t you remember that only last year the rebel, Esref Khan, whom the Padishah had been pursuing to the death, even in foreign lands, hit, at last, upon the idea of resorting to the Janissaries, and was safer against the fatal silken cord here, in the very midst of Stambul, than if he had fled all the way to the Isle of Rhodes for refuge. Let us all become Janissaries, I and you and Janaki also.”
But Janaki kicked vigorously against the proposition.
“You two may go over to the Janissaries if you like, but in the meantime my daughter and I will make our escape to the Isle of Tenedos and there await tidings of you. One jar of dates I will take with me, the other you may divide among the Janissaries; it will put them in a good humour and make them receive you more amicably.”
Halil embraced his wife, kissed her, and wept over her. There was not much time for leave-taking. The Debedjis who had accompanied the Berber-Bashi were beginning to grow impatient at the prolonged absence of their master; they could be heard stamping about around the door.