by Josie Packman

  • This article first appeared in THE COLLECTORS' DIGEST Vol. 33 issue 392, Aug. 1979, to Vol. 34 issue 397, Jan. 1980.
Doctor Huxton Rymer

This is the story of a vivid personality created so perfectly by one of our best Blake authors, Mr. G. H. Teed, that the great Doctor always seemed to have been a real living person. A man pulled in two directions — the great Surgeon striving to help his fellow men with his wonderful command of the new surgery he himself had helped to create, and the quite equally great criminal, using his twisted but brilliant brains to plan the outrageous crimes related in the Sexton Blake Saga.

The story of his decline and fall covers a period of some twenty years, but his real character emerged in the early stories of his adventures and battles with Sexton Blake.

Dr. Rymer came of a good family and had been sent to Vienna for his medical and surgical training early in the century. At that time in history Vienna was the "Mecca of Medicine", nowhere else could a young doctor of Rymer's ability have learned his trade as a surgeon. He was the first to discover and practice, the delicate hip operation which was to revolutionise modern surgery. His discoveries were sensational and given to the world through the Franz Joseph Hospital in Vienna where his services were sought by Royalty and commoner alike.

Then, suddenly and mysteriously, the Master disappeared, he was seen no more by the pupils who carried on his teachings. Why had this man deserted his chosen profession? Was there a kink in his brain which caused him to relinquish all that he had worked so hard for? From a brilliant surgeon he evolved slowly but surely into a no less brilliant criminal, destined to end his career in disgrace and imprisonment. The seeds of good and evil were implanted in this man at birth — who could say from which parent he inherited them — or was it from his ancestors, for "the sins of the fathers are visited on their children unto the third and fourth generation".

Yet in spite of these criminal instincts Rymer could still immerse himself in medicine. In the story called "The Sacred Sphere", U.J. No. 529, we first hear of his treatise on "The Emanations of Radium in Relation to their action on Cancer and the Curative Power Thereof". A description of Rymer where — on board a deserted ship on a raw cold December day — he was so engrossed in his writings that he noticed nothing of his sordid surroundings. Several times in the many stories about Dr. Rymer written in future years, this profound treatise was mentioned but eventually in the late 1920's this theme was dropped by the author and Rymer became a skilled operator in anything he undertook.

In the meantime many fine stories of Rymer adventures were published, quite a number of them in the famous Double Numbers of the Union Jack. Altogether there were 76 tales in which Dr. Rymer appeared, more than some so-called best-selling authors produce in a lifetime. These are the ones published in the Union Jack and Sexton Blake Library and one solitary tale in the Boys' Friend Library. To get a real picture of the doctor we need to divide these tales into three sections, as follows:

The first section covers the period from 1913, No. 488 of the Union Jack to No. 692 in early 1917.

The second section began in 1922 when the author — Mr. Teed — returned from his war service and world wide wanderings to start writing for the Sexton Blake Saga again. In my opinion this section lasted until the end of the first series of the Sexton Blake Library in 1925 and correspondingly with the same period in the Union Jack.

The third section covers the remaining years until the death of Mr. Teed in 1938 and were among the more modern and sophisticated tales. Not that they were any better than the early ones, but were brought up-to-date and written in gangsterish style as apparently ordered by the then editor.

Before beginning with Rymer's first meeting with Sexton Blake, I feel impelled to mention the tale of Dr. Rymer which appeared in 1916, in No. 11 of the new Sexton Blake Library and shows his characteristics to advantage. It is a strange and haunting story of the grim battles in war-torn France and particularly of the happenings in a small Field Hospital back of Nancy run by a surgeon of the greatest genius. "Lt. Col. of the Army of France" is his rank and on his breast there is attached the ribbon of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. U. Col. de Loulay is the name by which the French Government knows him and the name by which the lesser surgeons speak of his wonderful surgery with bated breath. No more brilliant handler of the knife is there in all the French lines than de Loulay. Yet little do any of his associates dream that de Loulay hides the identity of Dr. Huxton Rymer, once the most brilliant surgeon of Europe. Yes so it is. Yes after many of the adventures of which I am about to tell you, Rymer had ended up in France and joined the French Army and in so doing had nearly won back his self-respect and had worked hard for the lives of broken and wounded men who had arrived at the small hospital, without thought of anything else, his criminal career forgotten amongst the horrors of the Great War, and the knowledge that he held in his hands the relief of suffering for so many of those men. But even in this environment temptation looms and once more the Dr. has to fight against the evil in him. This is a sad story and involves the loss of the last son of a French nobleman, an almost lost inheritance and stolen jewels. It is also one of the few tales in which Rymer joins forces with Baron de Beauremon another of Teed's creations. No other Rymer adventures appeared in the Sexton Blake Library until 1922.

Huxton RymerNow, back to 1913 and the start of the story, which begins in U.J. No. 488, "When Greek meets Greek". In this tale we hear that Blake has met Rymer in New York and foiled one of his plans. He escapes from New York and boards a boat running to the small Republic of Salnarita in South America. The cargo turns out to be guns for the usual rebels in that particular country and it is here that Rymer also meets Mlle Yvonne Cartier for the first time and falls in love with her. At that time Yvonne is still the Adventuress and invites Rymer to join forces with her, but a reckless disobedience of the rules laid down by her had severed their relationship and Rymer had been set adrift but with well-lined pockets.

He landed in Melbourne and set about enjoying the luxurious life he loved, but soon the demon drink overcame him and he was eventually down to his last shillings and living among the dregs of humanity. This adventure is related in the Easter Double Number of the Union Jack No. 493 called "The Diamond Dragon", a tale of Chinese intrigue in which Rymer gets involved, but after returning to England with his loot he eventually ends up in Bleakmoor Prison.

These two stories pre-date the only Rymer one in the Boys' Friend Library of May 1913 entitled "The Great Mining Swindle". Rymer has been transferred to Bigmoor Prison which is supposed to have been the most secure of all the English Prisons, but he escapes with the aid of some of his criminal friends. It was during the course of this adventure that Rymer showed he still had some remnants of decency. Although in the earlier adventure with Yvonne he had tried to kill Tinker, in this one his better nature comes to the fore and he rescues Tinker from sinking to his death in the quicksands near Bigmoor Prison. One cannot but admire this man who could at one time submerge himself in medicine and surgery to help others, and then the next fall victim to drink and drugs.

By now the true character of Dr. Huxton Rymer had been set by the author who then went on to enlarge on his theme. The great Doctor succumbed to the snares of drugs and in the adventure related in U.J. No. 512, dated 2 August, 1913, he continues his disastrous career by becoming involved in the plans of Prince Wu Ling (who had appeared on the scene by this time) and once again he lost the fight and ended up in another small Republic in South America. Time and again Rymer returned to that part of the world as there were ever rich pickings to be made and no extradition law existed between South America and the European countries or North America, thus making a safe haven for the wrongdoers. But the Chinese plots follow him there as told in U.J. No. 526, "The Yellow Octopus". The next adventure has already been mentioned — "The Sacred Sphere" in which we first heard about Rymer's treatise on Cancer. This was also a Christmas Double Number of the Union Jack, but although Rymer appeared to profit from his many crimes he was a spendthrift and soon ran through the money he obtained and often he was foiled by Sexton Blake from making the large coups he had planned.

A gap of several months passed before another tale appeared, but it was worth waiting for. This was a Spring Double Number and the story was of such a length that the magnificent plot could be unfolded to the full. Dr. Rymer decides to use his remaining capital to return home to England and books a first class passage with the hopes that something big might turn up. It did, but vastly different to what Rymer expected. He comes into contact with a wealthy landowner, one Thomas Brail, who is suffering from Cancer, and thereby lands in a most unexpected situation. Thomas Brail is hoping to find the man who wrote the wonderful treatise on the cure of Cancer and when he learns that Rymer is that man he offers him a fantastic fee to cure Brail, a fee that should have satisfied even Rymer's craving for money. However, from the moment he first examines his patient a marvellous change comes over Rymer. Every thought of a criminal nature fled as he was gripped by his professional instincts. For part of the voyage home Rymer was satisfied to treat his patient and plan the further treatment when various drugs were available. But gradually the idea came to him for getting his hands on a larger sum than even the huge fee Thomas Brail had offered him. The criminal instincts once more came to the fore and in spite of Sexton Blake's eventual appearance on the scene Rymer did cure his victim but got away with a considerable amount of his wealth. This he was able to do because Brail was grateful to Rymer, not only had he been cured but re-united with his estranged wife and daughter. The plot of this story is far too long and complicated to tell in a few words, but if anyone is lucky enough to possess a copy or able to borrow one, of this Union Jack, then they are in for a real fine read. The number is U.J. 548, dated April 1914, and entitled "The Case of the Radium Patient". In my opinion this is one of the very best of Teed's fine tales. These double numbers of the Union Jack certainly did give the author scope for wonderful tales, as well as developing the character of Dr. Huxton Rymer to the full.

Rymer disappeared abroad with his ill-gotten gains but soon gambled most of it away. In his years as a criminal he must have stolen or acquired in some way or another, a fairly large fortune but with his besetting sins of gambling, drink and drugs sank to so low a level that after certain happenings in Sydney he found it prudent to depart from that city, the only way being as a deck hand aboard the Japanese ship Kara Maru. The Kara Maru was plying as a passenger ship between Sydney and Hong Kong calling at Manila and various other islands on the way. But she was destined never to reach Hong Kong on this voyage, neither were the majority of her passengers and crew. A hurricane hit the ship during its course through the Great Barrier Reef, but one man was able to escape from the wreckage carrying with him the beautiful rare crimson pearl which had already been the cause of much bloodshed and was destined to do so once again. This adventure was told in Union Jack No. 564, dated 1 August, 1914, entitled "The Crimson Pearl". This was another of the grand 80,000 word double numbers which were such a feature of the period. It was the length of these stories which enabled Teed to enlarge on the character of Rymer, especially where he fought to outwit Blake who was often on his track. Very few of these early adventures happened in England, they were mostly set in the Far East or South America with an occasional one in New York. The descriptions by Teed of the countries and terrains in which Rymer worked helped to make one realise the true bravery and courage which Rymer sometimes had to show, gave one the real key to his character.

The next four stories of Rymer's adventures are very good ones but as they are shorter tales, the themes are necessarily easier ones for Blake to settle. All four are, however, quite different in plot and location. No. 591, "The Mystery of the Banana Plantation" being a tale of chicanery in the financial world. No, 613, "Scoundrels All" is another version of the South American adventures but this time Rymer joins up with Beauremon again and other members of the "Council of Eleven". No. 618, "Sexton Blake, Pirate" is a good yarn about the activities of spies in war-time. Submarines and bullion abound and Rymer kills the spy early on in the story and makes his own plans for obtaining the bullion being sent from America to Germany. There is no doubt about it, these war years lent themselves to many a plot which would have been impossible in peace time. The last of this particular set of tales is recorded in No. 623, called "The Case of the `Frisco Leper". This tale opens with a description of the great San Francisco Exposition. Despite the war raging in Europe the state of California had decided that the Exposition could not be postponed and it was because of this decision that the appearance in San Francisco of Dr. Huxton Rymer was to be of great moment. Rymer appears to fall in with a man who is apparently a leper and the Dr. treats him after discovering that the disease was not true Leprosy, but Rymer's agile brain soon sees a way to make a profit out of this — blackmail. For what city containing thousands of people visiting the Exposition could afford to let it be known that a case of Leprosy was in the city? But Sexton Blake also turned up in San Francisco bent on catching an escaped German prisoner of war, so of course Rymer's plans as usual go awry. No wonder he has sworn to kill Blake. Yet when he gets the opportunity he does not act — the remains of his streak of decency are still there — he really admires Blake for his persistence.

Our next tale is the last of Teed's Double Numbers. It is U.J. No. 685, "The Blue God" and introduces another of Teed's characters — Hammerton Palmer — who joins forces with Rymer in this tale of orchids and sapphires. Both very rare specimens.

Never before had the wonderful blue orchid been seen by white men, nor had the large sapphire embedded in an idol hidden deep in the jungles of Borneo. This is a magnificent tale and once again shows the courage of the one-time brilliant surgeon in venturing into the jungle where few had gone before him. But he is a true gambler and fighter who, when bested by Blake, merely waits for the next opportunity to come along.

The last tale in this section of our story of Dr. Rymer is quite a good one although it seems to be a copy of the earlier gold bullion one but with a different setting. This is what we hear of the Dr. in the last paragraph of this story:

Coasting up through the Solomons was a schooner bearing Dr. Huxton Rymer and the rest of the scum who had escaped from Tahiti. Rymer had played for high stakes and had lost, but as he leaned over the rail smoking and watching the green water slush by, his face betrayed no trace of disappointment. He was too much of a gambler to reveal what he might feel, and when the hand was played it was to him dead.

So there we leave him until five years in the future when once again his adventures are chronicled in the pages of the Union Jack and the Sexton Blake Library.

Huxton RymerIn the first part of our story the tales of Dr. Huxton Rymer's adventures followed in chronological order in the Union Jack with one exception, the story called "The Great Mining Swindle" published in the Boys' Friend Library in 1913. This was predated by the first two stories of Rymer in the Union Jack. Now this was by no means the case in our second section. Several of the tales appeared to have been written by the author for publishing in the correct order but no doubt the editors of the Union Jack and Sexton Blake Library decided other-wise, so we have the curious effect of knowing about Dr. Rymer's quiet country estate near Horsham long before the actual fact had occurred.

After an absence of five years Rymer returned to the pages of the Union Jack in No. 980 dated July 1922 entitled "The Case of the Winfield Handicap" one of a set of three tales which involved Blake, Tinker and Yvonne in a chase half-way round the world after Rymer and the absconding Whidden Crane. In this particular U.J. there is a synopsis of Rymer's adventures since he dropped out of sight as a brilliant surgeon. This states that he has already purchased the estate called Abbey Towers but the origin of this statement is written in the story "The Case of the Courtland Jewels" which appeared in the S.B.L. No. 253, 1st series, dated 31 October, 1922. Actually the first story of Rymer after that long absence was in the S.B.L. No. 219, "The Ivory Screen" dated March 1922 thus pre-dating the Union Jack No. 980. At the end of this section will appear a list of the numbers and dates of the S.B.L. and U.J. as the stories should have been printed according to the various references given.

It was during this period that there emerged a somewhat different character. Rymer was, or seemed to be, more humane and mature. Gone were the days of his reckless indulgence in drink and drugs and only now and then did very adverse circumstances bring him to the verge of poverty and possible imprisonment. Even his dealings with Sexton Blake took on a new attitude. Despite being on opposite sides these two men came together at times in mutual help. A much more reasonable state of mind than implacable hatred especially where Rymer was concerned. His previous hatred evened out and he could not but admire Blake's persistence in outwitting him on many occasions. Several times both were instrumental in aiding each other and Tinker, to escape certain death at the hands of other criminals and in one case in particular I remember, saved Tinker from death by cannibalism. This story was "The Secret Emerald Mines" in S.B.L. No, 271 in 1923. A man with Rymer's criminal instincts could never wholly reform but as he matured his better nature came to the fore more often.

After the adventure of The Ivory Screen Rymer was once again adrift and turned up eventually in New York. The tale is related in S.B.L. No, 229, "The Spirit Smugglers", an excellent tale of the Prohibition Era. Rymer managed to get involved with certain bootleggers and rum-runners and although the organisation was smashed by Sexton Blake in cahoots with the New York police department, Rymer was able to get away with a considerable fortune. It was this money that enabled him to return to England and buy the estate at Horsham under the name of Professor Andrew Butterfield. For some time now he had had this urge to find himself a settled place of his own. The many years spent drifting around from one country to another, pursued by both the police and Blake, had at last palled on him, at least for the time being, and the acquisition of Abbey Towers was the best thing he had done since the start of his criminal career. A fine description of this house is given in "The Case of the Courtland Jewels" and Rymer spent months and a lot of money setting the estate in order, and with the aid of a manservant and a housemaid lived the quiet country life of an eminent Professor. But alas, the urge to be once more up and doing something exciting returned and it is in this particular story that he decided to set up as an adviser to the denizens of the underworld. Now it is also, that he meets his one and only real partner — Mary Trent, who, although a well-educated girl and an artist of some merit, was acting as housemaid at Abbey Towers. We are never given the real reason for this seclusion, but it was not long before Mary found out that her employer was the notorious criminal Dr. Huxton Rymer. Mary proved her worth to Rymer and this was the beginning of an association which was partly the cause of Rymer's new character. This new feminine influence in his life had a somewhat mellowing effect although Mary entered into Rymer's schemes, and it was during this period that his relations with Sexton Blake took a change for the better.

Now although the stories were sometimes out of sequence they were complete adventures in themselves. Sometimes Mary Trent was with him, other times he was on his own or else involved with Marie Galante. Rymer first met her in the story called "The Voodoo Curse" U.J. No. 984.

A tale of a very different kind appeared in the Union Jack No. 1000. It was called "The Thousandth Chance" and was specially written for that number. The theme was excellent but the story suffered from being too short. The space allowed in those far-off days of 1922 was not enough to develop a decent plot such as appeared in the famous double numbers. This Christmas story could have been much better as a full-length Sexton Blake Library tale. A number of Blake's opponents were invited to Abbey Towers by Rymer at the request of Wu Ling who had a plot to steal Blake's art treasures, and required assistance. All he wanted for himself was the Ling-tse vase, the others could have the rest. Naturally the plot failed. A later Christmas story in No. 1105 in 1924 featured Rymer and Mary Trent, together with Plummer, in a "Christmas Truce" which was fairly successful.

Many of the later stories appearing in the Union Jack up to the end of 1925 were what one might call for want of a better title "odd ones out", meaning just adventures which although interesting were not all part of the saga. No. 1110 for instance, "The Treasure of Tortoise Island" was a shortened version of the "Case of the Radium Patient" of 1914. The story of Dr. Huxton Rymer in the U.J. in No. 1177, "The Case of the Stricken Outpost" was a tale of a Canadian town stricken with an epidemic in which Blake and Rymer together bring aid to the people. Only four more tales appeared in the later Union Jacks and these will form part of the third section of this story of Dr. Huxton Rymer.

Following is a list of tales as they should have been published in correct order:

Sexton Blake Library No. 219 Mar. 1922 "The Ivory Screen".
Sexton Blake Library No. 229 May 1922 "The Spirit Smugglers".
Sexton Blake Library No. 253 Oct. 1922 "Case of the Courtland Jewels".
Union Jack No. 980 Jul. 1922 "The Case of the Winfield Handicap".
Union Jack No. 981 Jul. 1922 "Sexton Blake's Blunder".
Union Jack No. 982 Jul. 1922 "The Case of the Richshaw Coolie".
Union Jack No. 984 Aug. 1922 "The Voodoo Curse".
Sexton Blake Library No. 271 Feb. 1923 "The Secret Emerald Mines".
Union Jack No. 1014 17 Mar. 1923 "The Pearls of Benjemasin".
Union Jack No. 1015 24 Mar. 1923 "The Painted Window".
Union Jack No. 1017 7 Apr. 1923 "The Indian Fakir".
Union Jack 28 No. 1020 Apr. 1923 "The Mystery of the Moving Mountain".
Sexton Blake Library No. 283 May 1923 "The Eight-Pointed Star".
Sexton Blake Library No. 307 Nov. 1923 "The Crimson Belt".
Union Jack No. 1047 Nov. 1923 "Huxton Rymer, President".
Sexton Blake Library No. 312 Dec 1923 "The Orloff Diamond".
Sexton Blake Library No. 356 Nov 1924 "The Case of the Clairvoyant's Ruse".
Sexton Blake Library No. 360 Dec 1924 "The Case of the Jade Handled Knife".