MAY EDGINTON “The Eyes of Countess Gerda.” Short story. First published in The Story-teller, UK, December 1911. Reprinted as “Johnnie Luck” in Pearson’s Magazine , US, March 1912. First collected in The Adventures of Napoleon Prince (Cassell, UK/US, hardcover, 1912). Also included in Johnnie Luck and Napoleon Prince: The Expanded Adventures (Coachwhip, paperback, February 2015). Reprinted in The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Black Lizard, softcover, 2017).

   When it comes to old and mostly forgotten stories such as this one, I usually rely on Otto’s introductions in any of the huge doorstop collections he’s done in recent years. He let me down with this one, though.

   Most of the introductory material is devoted to the author, whose full name was May Helen Marion Edginton Bailey (1883-1957), and the various stories she wrote that were turned into movies, such as “Purple and Fine Linen,” which became Adventures in Manhattan in 1936.

   Sometimes, though, ignorance is underrated. It may actually have helped in this case, not knowing exactly who Napoleon Prince was, nor his (apparently) two assistants, his sister (?) Mary and Johnnie Luck, who is also quite taken with the former. (Otto calls the sister Gerda, which is clearly in error, and the latter Dapper, which if true, the reference does not come up in this tale.)

   Which is an absolute gem in storytelling. When the three protagonists move into a rooming house together, separate rooms, they happen by chance to make the acquaintance of a young woman living in her own flat alone. Her eyes remind Prince of those of a woman he knew long ago, and eventually he gets around to telling Johnnie the entire unembellished story.

   Where the story is going from here is not exactly clear, bur the reader knows in general that something is in the works, but who is preying on who, and how? Those are the questions. This is an old-fashioned story, charmingly told, and all the pieces fit together beautifully, like clockwork. I called it a “gem” a bit earlier, and indeed it is.

Bibliographic Note:   The Cassell collection from 1912 contains 12 stories, while the much more recent volume from Coachwhip has 18, or all of the known Napoleon Prince stories.