Read an Excerpt
The summer of 1914 was the finest in living memory. All over Europe the sun shone, day after day, from a sky without a cloud. Holidaymakers traveled as they wished across a continent at peace, reveling in green woods and clean, warm seas. They crossed national borders unimpeded. Almost no one noticed the storm building on the political horizon; even newspapers mostly ignored it. The war struck with the suddenness of an avalanche and carried everything away.
There was never to be another summer like it.
Toward the end of June in that year the Greek steamship Hermes, preparing to depart from Port Said and having a vacant stateroom, embarked at short notice a gentleman whose name was entered in the log as Colonel Julius Creighton. He was polite and aloof and inscrutable. During the crossing of the Mediterranean, he remained extremely reticent about both himself and his business. He was without question an English milord, but beyond that obvious deduction, neither the officers nor the other passengers were able to progress. Everyone was intrigued when he chose to disembark at Cattaro, in Montenegro, which was not on the road to anywhere. The English, they agreed, were crazy. They would all have been considerably more surprised had they been able to follow his subsequent travels.
He set foot on European soil on the twenty-eighth of June, which by coincidence was the day Archduke Francis Ferdinand's death in Sarajevo opened the first crack of the collapse that was to bring down the whole world. The Montenegro border was less than fifty miles from Sarajevo. The reader is therefore cautioned that Colonel Creighton had absolutely nothing todo with the assassination.
He progressed rapidly north and east, traveling mainly on horseback through wild country, until he reached the vicinity of Belgrade. In a wagon in a wood, he was granted audience by a gypsy voivode, whose authority transcended national borders.
Creighton continued eastward and spent a night as guest of a certain count of ancient lineage, lord of a picturesque castle in Transylvania. In Vienna he met with several people, including a woman reputed to be the most skilled courtesan in Austria, with the fairest body in Europe, but the substance of their meeting was unrelated to such matters.
By the fifteenth of July he had reached St. Petersburg. Although the Russian capital was racked by workers' strikes, he succeeded in spending several hours talking with a monk celebrated for both his holiness and his political connections.
On the twenty-third, when Austria issued its ultimatum to Serbia, Colonel Creighton arrived in Paris, having wasted a couple of days in a cave in the Black Forest. Paris was in the throes of the Caillaux scandal, but he ignored that, conferring with two artists and a newspaper editor. He also took an overnight train south to Marseilles to visit Fort St. jean, European Headquarters of the Foreign Legion. He spent most of his time there in the chapel, then returned to the capital.
On July 28, when Austria declared war on Serbia, he obtained a berth on the next boat train to London a surprising feat, considering the near-panic in the Gare du Nord.
On reaching England, he completely disappeared.