Mr. Justice Raffles, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 15

Trial by Raffles

When I awoke it was dazzling daylight in the tower, and the little scene was quite a surprise to me. It had felt far larger in the dark. I suppose the floor-space was about twelve feet square, but it was contracted on one side by the well and banisters of a wooden staircase from the room below, on another by the ship’s bunk, and opposite that by the locker on which I lay. Moreover, the four walls, or rather the four triangles of roof, sloped so sharply to the apex of the tower as to leave an inner margin in which few grown persons could have stood upright. The port-hole windows were shrouded with rags of cobweb spotted with dead flies. They had evidently not been opened for years; it was even more depressingly obvious that we must not open them. One was thankful for such modicum of comparatively pure air as came up the open stair from the floor below; but in the freshness of the morning one trembled to anticipate the atmosphere of this stale and stuffy eyrie through the heat of a summer’s day. And yet neither the size nor the scent of the place, nor any other merely scenic feature, was half so disturbing or fantastic as the appearance of my two companions.

Raffles, not quite at the top of the stairs, but near enough to loll over the banisters, and Levy, cumbering the ship’s bunk, were indeed startling figures to an eye still dim with sleep. Raffles had an ugly cut from the left nostril to the corner of the mouth; he had washed the blood from his face, but the dark and angry streak remained to heighten his unusual pallor. Levy looked crumpled and debauched, flabbily and feebly senile, yet with his vital forces making a last flicker in his fiery eyes. He was grotesquely swathed in scarlet bunting, from which his doubled fists protruded in handcuffs; a bit of thin rope attached the handcuffs to a peg on which his coat and hat were also hanging, and a longer bit was taken round the banisters from the other end of the bunting, which I now perceived to be a tattered and torn Red Ensign. This led to the discovery that I myself had been sleeping in the Union Jack, and it brought my eyes back to the ghastly face of Raffles, who was already smiling at mine.

“Enjoyed your night under canvas, Bunny? Then you might get up and present your colours to the prisoner in the bunk. You needn’t be frightened of him, Bunny; he’s such a devilish tough customer that I’ve had to clap him in irons, as you see. Yet he can’t say I haven’t given him rope enough; he’s got lashings of rope — eh, Bunny?”

“That’s right!” said Levy, with a bitter snarl. “Get a man down by foul play, and then wipe your boots on him! I’d stick it like a lamb if only you’d give me that drink.”

And then it was, as I got to my feet, and shook myself free from the folds of the Union Jack, that I saw the unopened pint of champagne standing against the banisters in full view of the bunk. I confess I eyed it wistfully myself; but Raffles was adamant alike to friend and foe, and merely beckoned me to follow him down the wooden stair, without answering Levy at all. I certainly thought it a risk to leave that worthy unwatched for a moment, but it was scarcely for more. The room below was fitted with a bath and a lavatory basin, which Raffles pointed out to me without going all the way down himself. At the same time he handed me a stale remnant of the sandwiches removed with Levy from his house.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to wash these down at that tap,” said he. “The poor devil has finished what you left at daybreak, besides making a hole in my flask; but he can’t or won’t eat a bite, and if only he stands his trial and takes his sentence like a man, I think he might have the other pint to his own infernal cheek.”

“Trial and sentence!” I exclaimed. “I thought you were going to hold him up to ransom?”

“Not without a fair trial, my dear Bunny,” said Raffles in the accents of reproof. “We must hear what the old swab has to say for himself, when he’s heard what I’ve got to say to him. So you stick your head under the tap when you’ve had your snack, Bunny; it won’t come up to the swim I had after I’d taken the boat back, when you and Shylock were fast asleep, but it’s all you’ve time for if you want to hear me open my case.”

And open it he did before himself, as judge and counsel in one, sitting on the locker as on the bench, the very moment I reappeared in court.

“Prisoner in the bunk, before we formulate the charge against you we had better deal with your last request for drink, made in the same breath as a preposterous complaint about foul play. The request has been made and granted more than once already this morning. This time it’s refused. Drink has been your undoing, prisoner in the bunk; it is drink that necessitates your annual purification at Carlsbad, and yet within a week of that chastening experience you come before me without knowing where you are or how you got here.”

“That wasn’t the whisky,” muttered Levy with a tortured brow. “That was something else, which you’ll hear more about; foul play it was, and you’ll pay for it yet. There’s not a headache in a hogshead of my whisky.”

“Well,” resumed Raffles, “your champagne is on the same high level, and here’s a pint of the best which you can open for yourself if only you show your sense before I’ve done with you. But you won’t advance that little millennium by talking about foul play as though it were all on one side and the foulest of the foul not on yours. You will only retard the business of the court. You are indicted with extortion and sharp practice in all your dealings, with cheating and misleading your customers, attempting to cheat and betray your friends, and breaking all the rules of civilised crime. You are not invited to plead either way, because this court would not attach the slightest value to your plea; but presently you will get an opportunity of addressing the court in mitigation of your sentence. Or, if you like,” continued Raffles, with a wink at me, “you may be represented by counsel. My learned friend here, I’m sure, will be proud to undertake your defence as a ‘docker’; or — perhaps I should say a ‘bunker,’ Mr. Bunny?”

And Raffles laughed as coyly as a real judge at a real judicial joke, whereupon I joined in so uproariously as to find myself degraded from the position of leading counsel to that of the general public in a single flash from the judge’s eye.

“If I hear any more laughter,” said Raffles, “I shall clear the court. It’s perfectly monstrous that people should come here to a court of justice and behave as though they were at a theatre.”

Levy had been reclining with his yellow face twisted and his red eyes shut; but now these burst open as with flames, and the dry lips spat a hearty curse at the judge upon the locker.

“Take care!” said Raffles. “Contempt of court won’t do you any good, you know!”

“And what good will all this foolery do you? Say what you’ve got to say against me, and be damned to you!”

“I fear you’re confusing our functions sadly,” said Raffles, with a compassionate shake of the head. “But so far as your first exhortation goes, I shall endeavour to take you at your word. You are a money-lender trading, among other places, in Jermyn Street, St. James’s, under the style and title of Daniel Levy.”

“It ‘appens to be my name.”

“That I can well believe,” rejoined Raffles; “and if I may say so, Mr. Levy, I respect you for it. You don’t call yourself MacGregor or Montgomery. You don’t sail under false colours at all. You fly the skull and crossbones of Daniel Levy, and it’s one of the points that distinguish you from the ruck of money-lenders and put you in a class by yourself. Unfortunately, the other points are not so creditable. If you are more brazen than most you are also more unscrupulous; if you fly at higher game, you descend to lower dodges. You may be the biggest man alive at your job; you are certainly the biggest villain.”

“But I’m up against a bigger now,” said Levy, shifting his position and closing his crimson eyes.

“Possibly,” said Raffles, as he produced a long envelope and unfolded a sheet of foolscap; “but permit me to remind you of a few of your own proven villainies before you take any more shots at mine. Last year you had three of your great bargains set aside by the law as hard and unconscionable; but every year you have these cases, and at best the terms are modified in favour of your wretched client. But it’s only the exception who will face the music of the law-courts and the Press, and you figure on the general run. You prefer people like the Lincolnshire vicar you hounded into an asylum the year before last. You cherish the memory of the seven poor devils that you drove to suicide between 1890 and 1894; that sort pay the uttermost farthing before the debt to nature! You set great store by the impoverished gentry and nobility who have you to stay with them when the worst comes to the worst, and secure a respite in exchange for introductions to their pals. No fish is too large for your net, and none is too small, from his highness of Hathipur to that poor little builder at Bromley, who cut the throats —”

“Stop it!” cried Levy, in a lather of impotent rage.

“By all means,” said Raffles, restoring the paper to its envelope. “It’s an ugly little load for one man’s soul, I admit; but you must see it was about time somebody beat you at your own beastly game.”

“It’s a pack of blithering lies,” retorted Levy, “and you haven’t beaten me yet. Stick to facts within your own knowledge, and then tell me if your precious Garlands haven’t brought their troubles on themselves?”

“Certainly they have,” said Raffles. “But it isn’t your treatment of the Garlands that has brought you to this pretty pass.”

“What is it, then?”

“Your treatment of me, Mr. Levy.”

“A cursed crook like you!”

“A party to a pretty definite bargain, however, and a discredited person only so far as that bargain is concerned.”

“And the rest!” said the money-lender, jeering feebly. “I know more about you than you guess.”

“I should have put it the other way round,” replied Raffles, smiling. “But we are both forgetting ourselves, prisoner in the bunk. Kindly note that your trial is resumed, and further contempt will not be allowed to go unpurged. You referred a moment ago to my unfortunate friends; you say they were the engineers of their own misfortunes. That might be said of all who ever put themselves in your clutches. You squeeze them as hard as the law will let you, and in this case I don’t see how the law is to interfere. So I interfere myself — in the first instance as disastrously as you please.”

“You did so!” exclaimed Levy, with a flicker of his inflamed eyes. “You brought things to a head; that’s all you did.”

“On the contrary, you and I came to an agreement which still holds good,” said Raffles, significantly. “You are to return me a certain note of hand for thirteen thousand and odd pounds, taken in exchange for a loan of ten thousand, and you are also to give an understanding to leave another fifteen thousand of yours on mortgage for another year at least, instead of foreclosing, as you threatened and had a right to do this week. That was your side of the bargain.”

“Well,” said Levy, “and when did I go back on it?”

“My side,” continued Raffles, ignoring the interpolation, “was to get you by hook or crook a certain letter which you say you never wrote. As a matter of fact it was only to be got by crook —”

“Aha!”

“I got hold of it, nevertheless. I brought it to you at your house last night. And you instantly destroyed it after as foul an attack as one man ever made upon another!”

Raffles had risen in his wrath, was towering over the prostrate prisoner, forgetful of the mock trial, dead even to the humour which he himself had infused into a sufficiently lurid situation, but quite terribly alive to the act of treachery and violence which had brought that situation about. And I must say that Levy looked no less alive to his own enormity; he quailed in his bonds with a guilty fearfulness strange to witness in so truculent a brute; and it was with something near a quaver that his voice came next.

“I know that was wrong,” the poor devil owned. “I’m very sorry for it, I’m sure! But you wouldn’t trust me with my own property, and that and the drink together made me mad.”

“So you acknowledge the alcoholic influence at last?”

“Oh, yes! I must have been as drunk as an owl.”

“You know you’ve been suggesting that we drugged you?”

“Not seriously, Mr. Raffles. I knew the old stale taste too well. It must have been the best part of a bottle I had before you got down.”

“In your anxiety to see me safe and sound?”

“That’s it — with the letter.”

“You never dreamt of playing me false until I hesitated to let you handle it?”

“Never for one moment, my dear Raffles!”

Raffles was still standing up to his last inch under the apex of the tower, his head and shoulders the butt of a climbing sunbeam full of fretful motes. I could not see his expression from the banisters, but only its effect upon Dan Levy, who first held up his manacled hands in hypocritical protestation, and then dropped them as though it were a bad job.

“Then why,” said Raffles, “did you have me watched almost from the moment that we parted company at the Albany last Friday morning?”

I have you watched!” exclaimed the other in real horror. “Why should I? It must have been the police.”

“It was not the police, though the blackguards did their best to look as if they were. I happen to be too familiar with both classes to be deceived. Your fellows were waiting for me up at Lord’s, but I had no difficulty in shaking them off when I got back to the Albany. They gave me no further trouble until last night, when they got on my tracks at Gray’s Inn in the guise of the two common, low detectives whom I believe I have already mentioned to you.”

“You said you left them there in their glory.”

“It was glorious from my point of view rather than theirs.”

Levy struggled into a less recumbent posture.

“And what makes you think,” said he, “that I set this watch upon you?”

“I don’t think,” returned Raffles. “I know.”

“And how the devil do you know?”

Raffles answered with a slow smile, and a still slower shake of the head: “You really mustn’t ask me to give everybody away, Mr. Levy!”

The money-lender swore an oath of sheer incredulous surprise, but checked himself at that and tried one more poser.

“And what do you suppose was my object in having you watched, if it wasn’t to ensure your safety?”

“It might have been to make doubly sure of the letter, and to cut down expenses at the same swoop, by knocking me on the head and abstracting the treasure from my person. It was a jolly cunning idea — prisoner in the bunk! I shouldn’t be upset about it just because it didn’t come off. My compliments especially on making up your varlets in the quite colourable image of the true detective. If they had fallen upon me, and it had been a case of my liberty or your letter, you know well enough which I should let go.”

But Levy had fallen back upon his pillow of folded flag, and the Red Ensign over him bubbled and heaved with his impotent paroxysms.

“They told you! They must have told you!” he ground out through his teeth. “The traitors — the blasted traitors!”

“It’s a catching complaint, you see, Mr. Levy,” said Raffles, “especially when one’s elders and betters themselves succumb to it.”

“But they’re such liars!” cried Levy, shifting his ground again. “Don’t you see what liars they are? I did set them to watch you, but for your own good, as I’ve just been telling you. I was so afraid something might ‘appen to you; they were there to see that nothing did. Now do you spot their game? I’d got to take the skunks into the secret, more or less, an’ they’ve played it double on us both. Meant bagging the letter from you to blackmail me with it; that’s what they meant! Of course, when they failed to bring it off, they’d pitch any yarn to you. But that was their game all right. You must see for yourself it could never have been mine, Raffles, and — and let me out o’ this, like a good feller!”

“Is this your defence?” asked Raffles as he resumed his seat on the judicial locker.

“Isn’t it your own?” the other asked in his turn, with an eager removal of all resentment from his manner. “‘Aven’t we both been got at by those two jackets? Of course I was sorry ever to ‘ave trusted ’em an inch, and you were quite right to serve me as you did if what they’d been telling you ‘ad been the truth; but, now you see it was all a pack of lies it’s surely about time to stop treating me like a mad dog.”

“Then you really mean to stand by your side of the original arrangement?”

“Always did,” declared our captive; “never ‘ad the slightest intention of doing anything else.”

“Then where’s the first thing you promised me in fair exchange for what you destroyed last night? Where’s Mr. Garland’s note of hand?”

“In my pocket-book, and that’s in my pocket.”

“In case the worst comes to the worst,” murmured Raffles in sly commentary, and with a sidelong glance at me.

“What’s that? Don’t you believe me? I’ll ‘and it over this minute, if only you’ll take these damned things off my wrists. There’s no excuse for ’em now, you know!”

Raffles shook his head.

“I’d rather not trust myself within reach of your raw fists yet, prisoner. But my marshal will produce the note from your person if it’s there.”

It was there, in a swollen pocket-book which I replaced otherwise intact while Raffles compared the signature on the note of hand with samples which he had brought with him for the purpose.

“It’s genuine enough,” said Levy, with a sudden snarl and a lethal look that I intercepted at close quarters.

“So I perceive,” said Raffles. “And now I require an equally genuine signature to this little document which is also a part of your bond.”

The little document turned out to be a veritable Deed, engrossed on parchment, embossed with a ten-shilling stamp, and duly calling itself an INDENTURE, in fourteenth century capitals. So much I saw as I held it up for the prisoner to read over. The illegally legal instrument is still in existence, with its unpunctuated jargon about “hereditaments” and “fee simple,” its “and whereas the said Daniel Levy” in every other line, and its eventual plain provision for “the said sum of £15,000 to remain charged upon the security of the hereditaments in the said recited Indenture . . . until the expiration of one year computed from —” that summer’s day in that empty tower! The whole thing had been properly and innocently prepared by old Mother Hubbard, the “little solicitor” whom Raffles had mentioned as having been in our house at school, from a copy of the original mortgage deed supplied in equal innocence by Mr. Garland. I sometimes wonder what those worthy citizens would have said, if they had dreamt for a moment under what conditions of acute duress their deed was to be signed!

Signed it was, however, and with less demur than might have been expected of so inveterate a fighter as Dan Levy. But his one remaining course was obviously the line of least resistance; no other would square with his ingenious repudiation of the charge of treachery to Raffles, much less with his repeated protestations that he had always intended to perform his part of their agreement. It was to his immediate interest to convince us of his good faith, and up to this point he might well have thought he had succeeded in so doing. Raffles had concealed his full knowledge of the creature’s duplicity, had enjoyed leading him on from lie to lie, and I had enjoyed listening almost as much as I now delighted in the dilemma in which Levy had landed himself; for either he must sign and look pleasant, or else abandon his innocent posture altogether; and so he looked as pleasant as he could, and signed in his handcuffs, with but the shadow of a fight for their immediate removal.

“And now,” said Levy, when I had duly witnessed his signature, “I think I’ve about earned that little drop of my own champagne.”

“Not quite yet,” replied Raffles, in a tone like thin ice. “We are only at the point we should have reached the moment I arrived at your house last night; you have now done under compulsion what you had agreed to do of your own free will then.”

Levy lay back in the bunk, plunged in billows of incongruous bunting, with fallen jaw and fiery eyes, an equal blend of anger and alarm. “But I told you I wasn’t myself last night,” he whined. “I’ve said I was very sorry for all I done, but can’t ‘ardly remember doing. I say it again from the bottom of my ’eart.”

“I’ve no doubt you do,” said Raffles. “But what you did after our arrival was nothing to what you had already done; it was only the last of those acts of treachery for which you are still on your trial — prisoner in the bunk!”

“But I thought I’d explained all the rest?” cried the prisoner, in a palsy of impotent rage and disappointment.

“You have,” said Raffles, “in the sense of making your perfidy even plainer than it was before. Come, Mr. Levy! I know every move you’ve made, and the game’s been up longer than you think; you won’t score a point by telling lies that contradict each other and aggravate your guilt. Have you nothing better to say why the sentence of the court should not be passed upon you?”

A sullen silence was broken by a more precise and staccato repetition of the question. And then to my amazement, I beheld the gross lower lip of Levy actually trembling, and a distressing flicker of the inflamed eyelids.

“I felt you’d swindled me,” he quavered out “And I thought — I’d swindle — you.”

“Bravo!” cried Raffles. “That’s the first honest thing you’ve said; let me tell you, for your encouragement, that it reduces your punishment by twenty-five per cent. You will, nevertheless, pay a fine of fifteen hundred pounds for your latest little effort in low treason.”

Though not unprepared for some such ultimatum, I must own I heard it with dismay. On all sorts of grounds, some of them as unworthy as itself, this last demand failed to meet with my approval; and I determined to expostulate with Raffles before it was too late. Meanwhile I hid my feelings as best I could, and admired the spirit with which Dan Levy expressed his.

“I’ll see you damned first!” he cried. “It’s blackmail!”

“Guineas,” said Raffles, “for contempt of court.”

And more to my surprise than ever, not a little indeed to my secret disappointment, our captive speedily collapsed again, whimpering, moaning, gnashing his teeth, and clutching at the Red Ensign, with closed eyes and distorted face, so much as though he were about to have a fit that I caught up the half-bottle of champagne, and began removing the wire at a nod from Raffles.

“Don’t cut the string just yet,” he added, however, with an eye on Levy — who instantly opened his.

“I’ll pay up!” he whispered, feebly yet eagerly. “It serves me right. I promise I’ll pay up!”

“Good!” said Raffles. “Here’s your own cheque-book from your own room, and here’s my fountain pen.”

“You won’t take my word?”

“It’s quite enough to have to take your cheque; it should have been hard cash.”

“So it shall be, Raffles, if you come up with me to my office!”

“I dare say.”

“To my bank, then!”

“I prefer to go alone. You will kindly make it an open cheque payable to bearer.”

The fountain pen was poised over the chequebook, but only because I had placed it in Levy’s fingers, and was holding the cheque-book under them.

“And what if I refuse?” he demanded, with a last flash of his native spirit.

“We shall say good-bye, and give you until to-night.”

“All day to call for help in!” muttered Levy, all but to himself.

“Do you happen to know where you are?” Raffles asked him.

“No, but I can find out.”

“If you knew already you would also know that you might call till you were black in the face; but to keep you in blissful ignorance you will be bound a good deal more securely than you are at present. And to spare your poor voice you will also be very thoroughly gagged.”

Levy took remarkably little notice of either threat or gibe.

“And if I give in and sign?” said he, after a pause.

“You will remain exactly as you are, with one of us to keep you company, while the other goes up to town to cash your cheque. You can’t expect me to give you a chance of stopping it, you know.”

This, again, struck me as a hard condition, if only prudent when one came to think of it from our point of view; still, it took even me by surprise, and I expected Levy to fling away the pen in disgust. He balanced it, however, as though also weighing the two alternatives very carefully in his mind, and during his deliberations his bloodshot eyes wandered from Raffles to me and back again to Raffles. In a word, the latest prospect appeared to disturb Mr. Levy less than, for obvious reasons, it did me. Certainly for him it was the lesser of the two evils, and as such he seemed to accept it when he finally wrote out the cheque for fifteen hundred guineas (Raffles insisting on these), and signed it firmly before sinking back as though exhausted by the effort.

Raffles was as good as his word about the champagne now: dram by dram he poured the whole pint into the cup belonging to his flask, and dram by dram our prisoner tossed it off, but with closed eyes, like a delirious invalid, and towards the end, with a head so heavy that Raffles had to raise it from the rolled flag, though foul talons still came twitching out for more. It was an unlovely process, I will confess; but what was a pint, as Raffles said? At any rate I could bear him out that these potations had not been hocussed, and Raffles whispered the same for the flask which he handed me with Levy’s revolver at the head of the wooden stairs.

“I’m coming down,” said I, “for a word with you in the room below.”

Raffles looked at me with open eyes, then more narrowly at the red lids of Levy, and finally at his own watch.

“Very well, Bunny, but I must cut and run for my train in about a minute. There’s a 9.24 which would get me to the bank before eleven, and back here by one or two.”

“Why go to the bank at all?” I asked him point-blank in the lower room.

“To cash his cheque before he has a chance of stopping it. Would you like to go instead of me, Bunny?”

“No, thank you!”

“Well, don’t get hot about it; you’ve got the better billet of the two.”

“The softer one, perhaps.”

“Infinitely, Bunny, with the old bird full of his own champagne, and his own revolver in your pocket or your hand! The worst he can do is to start yelling out, and I really do believe that not a soul would hear him if he did. The gardeners are always at work on the other side of the main road. A passing boatload is the only danger, and I doubt if even they would hear.”

“My billet’s all right,” said I, valiantly. “It’s yours that worries me.”

“Mine!” cried Raffles, with an almost merry laugh. “My dear, good Bunny, you may make your mind easy about my little bit! Of course, it’ll take some doing at the bank. I don’t say it’s a straight part there. But trust me to play it on my head.”

“Raffles,” I said, in a low voice that may have trembled, “it’s not a part for you to play at all! I don’t mean the little bit at the bank. I mean this whole blackmailing part of the business. It’s not like you, Raffles. It spoils the whole thing!”

I had got it off my chest without a hitch. But so far Raffles had not discouraged me. There was a look on his face which even made me think that he agreed with me in his heart. Both hardened as he thought it over.

“It’s Levy who’s spoilt the whole thing,” he rejoined obdurately in the end. “He’s been playing me false all the time, and he’s got to pay for it.”

“But you never meant to make anything out of him, A.J.!”

“Well, I do now, and I’ve told you why. Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s not your game!” I cried, with all the eager persuasion in my power. “Because it’s the sort of thing Dan Levy would do himself — it’s his game, all right — it simply drags you down to his level —”

But there he stopped me with a look, and not the kind of look I often had from Raffles, It was no new feat of mine to make him angry, scornful, bitterly cynical or sarcastic. This, however, was a look of pain and even shame, as though he had suddenly seen himself in a new and peculiarly unlovely light.

“Down to it!” he exclaimed, with an irony that was not for me. “As though there could be a much lower level than mine! Do you know, Bunny, I sometimes think my moral sense is ahead of yours?”

I could have laughed outright; but the humour that was the salt of him seemed suddenly to have gone out of Raffles.

“I know what I am,” said he, “but I’m afraid you’re getting a hopeless villain-worshipper!”

“It’s not the villain I care about,” I answered, meaning every word. “It’s the sportsman behind the villain, as you know perfectly well.”

“I know the villain behind the sportsman rather better,” replied Raffles, laughing when I least expected it. “But you’re by way of forgetting his existence altogether. I shouldn’t wonder if some day you wrote me up into a heavy hero, Bunny, and made me turn in my quicklime! Let this remind you what I always was and shall be to the end.”

And he took my hand, as I fondly hoped in surrender to my appeal to those better feelings which I knew I had for once succeeded in quickening within him.

But it was only to bid me a mischievous goodbye, ere he ran down the spiral stair, leaving me to listen till I lost his feathery foot-falls in the base of the tower, and then to mount guard over my tethered, handcuffed, somnolent, and yet always formidable prisoner at the top.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51