During the war of 1870, a group of soldiers was retreating towards Pont-Audemer after having passed through Rouen. The ground was covered with snow, and night was falling. The soldiers were exhausted, cold, and hungry. They came across a strange-looking little man who was suspected of being a spy. The soldiers decided to execute him, and after a brutal beating, they shot him dead.
Upon further examination, it was discovered that the man was actually a woman. The soldiers were shocked and horrified by their actions.
I cannot describe my strange, poignant feeling of anguish. I could not believe it, and knelt down in the snow beside the shapeless pulp to see for myself: it was a woman!
One of the gendarmes suggested that she might have been looking for her son in the artillery, as she had not heard from him.
In another incident, a group of soldiers was stranded in the desert after being betrayed by their guides. They were left with no food or water, and soon realized that they would have to resort to cannibalism to survive.
For two days they lived upon their share of human flesh; then, as hunger seized them again, he who had killed the first man killed a second.
One by one, the soldiers killed and ate each other, spacing themselves out to avoid being the next victim. The last surviving Frenchman, Pobéguin, was killed at a well-side the night before help arrived.
These two stories illustrate the true meaning of the word "horrible," as they involve not only death and suffering but also a sense of mystery and unnatural terror. The general, who is the narrator and an experienced military officer, reflects on these incidents with insight.