In any case, the breathing of the faithful horse could produce no more than a rime, since the corpse is now frozen from head to foot, as Cornithe, having dismounted and placed one knee on the ground, can see for himself. He has even unbuttoned the stiffening military tunic and removed his own black leather glove in order to be quite sure. Beneath his fingers, which explore the cold insides of the clothes with gentleness, even with tenderness, he finds an identity card, which he would not want to miss the chance to decipher, a task to which he brings his whole attention, respect, and melancholy sadness.
The lieutenant was called Kurt von Corinth. So perhaps he was a distant relative...almost the same name as the novelist Kurt Corrinth (with that curious doubling of his central consonant), who had been born in 1894 (the same year as his papa) and who, an unorthodox eulogist of National Socialism, had prophesied universal communion through action, sex, and death... But even more than the dead man's patronymic, it is his photograph that strikes anguish into the French officer's heart.
His hand trembling with fear and impatience, he feverishly searches his own inside pocket and draws out his personal papers in order to compare the two pictures... There can be no doubt about it: he is looking at two identical copies, printed from a single negative, of one and the the self-same photograph. Both, moreover, have exactly the same slight superficial fault, beneath the left eye, the laboratory clearly having produced them both on the same day using the same machine.
Henre de Corinthe can perfectly recall the source of the snapshot: a portrait dating from his time as instructor at the cavalry college and therefore already rather old. He had had nothing else at hand when his false documents were drawn up, documents in which he bears the name Henri Robin, which he uses for special missions and secret travels. Falling prey to an irrational panic, he hurriedly replaces as best he can the disturbing German identity papers...
It is then that he discovers between his anxious fingers a rectangular piece of card, glossy on one side, which he senses at once is a family memento... Count Henri's hand grows numb with fear, as though he knows in advance what the object represents. And it is with a slowness verging on paralysis that, reluctantly, he takes out a photographic print measuring 6 by 9 centimeters... It is a three-quarter-length portrait of Marie-Ange, apparently caught unaware by the camera, since her eyes are wide open and her lips slightly parted in a bright, unaffected smile, which confers on the snapshot a rare sensation of life.
In a gesture spontaneous and graceful, the young woman has assumed the frightened air of someone who suddenly finds not a lens but a rifle trained upon her and has raised both her hands in the air, her bare and gently curving arms feigning fearful surrender, a surrender belied by the peal of laughter about to burst forth from her lips, the sheer delight of which will explode once the shutter release has been depressed. Since she is wearing no clothes, her posture offers the viewer the youthful charm of her round, adolescent breasts, with a narrow waist a little above her delicate navel. The radiant beauty of her face must be due to the fact that she (or, rather, they) had just been making love... Marie-Ange was no doubt preparing to get dressed again... In the background, on the left-hand side, one can see hanging from a peg an officer's black tunic decorated with the Iron Cross.
But a closer study of the ambiguous expression on her face and of her attitude as a whole allows us to place a very different (and even better) interpretation on them: it is, indeed, an army rifle trained on its attractive and incredulous victim, while another soldier, in almost the same line of vision, takes the obscene picture of an execution. Filled with a sudden horror, Corinthe remounts his horse with so abrupt a movement that his injured knee makes him cry out in pain, while, close at hand, the sound of a single rifle shot rends the air. The French officer wonders how long this reprehensible interruption may have lasted, a break for which no allowance was made in the orders covering his mission.
Glancing some ten yards behind him, he notices to his horror that the second black horse has fallen into step behind him, as though naturally following its own master. All around, the deathly aspect of the setting seems even more disturbing to the belated cavalryman's overwrought nerves: this unknown town, built in ebony, basalt, obsidian, and Astrakhan marble, which figures on no known map, was it no more than a monumental graveyard, shelled by mistake? In the foreground, toward the lower right-hand corner of the frame, a large upright stone, carved in roman capitals, still exhibits the name of a builder of mausoleums and cenotaphs: Mark Tansey, Architect.