Sleeping alone on the wooden pallet that served as his bed, he didn't hear the window opening or the catlike tread of the intruder crossing the room towards him. He knew nothing until, out of the darkness, teeth closed around his ankle and dragged him to the floor.
Paralysed with terror and feeling the teeth tearing into his skin, he could see nothing, only two green eyes fixing him with a hungry stare.
Then screaming as loud as he could, and screaming until his last breath was spent and had gone unanswered, his life was ended.
* * *
Dark, heavy rainclouds covered the sun and, rain falling steadily all night, turned Watling Street into a mud-bath criss-crossed with deep ruts, haphazardly ploughed by all the traffic which had been using the road since before dawn.
The conditions made travelling even more difficult and uncomfortable for the passengers suffering the trials of a cramped coach trip from London.
On the second day, with lunchtime approaching, the battered passengers breathed a sigh of anticipated relief from their discomfort, as they watched their driver expertly guiding the coach and horses towards the wayside inn at Smockington Hollow.
Here they could stretch their legs and have a hot meal, while the coach received a team of fresh horses for the next stage of the trip.
Two of the passengers were companions and obviously ladies; their manners and mode of dress betrayed them, even before they spoke in their refined and educated tones, with a noticeable hint of a foreign accent.
They hadn't introduced themselves to the other passengers, but greeted them politely and announced in conversation that their journey would only be as far as Shrewsbury, where they had arranged to visit an uncle.
The third passenger was a short slightly plump man with a waxed moustache. He was wearing a loud green check suit with matching waistcoat and a green bowler hat.
Taking snuff at regular intervals, he had reached an expertise in method so that it disturbed no-one and left no sign of residue upon his face or clothes, as is often evident with more careless practitioners.
His strident voice was rather loud and with a Belfast accent; before the coach had reached half a mile out of the London terminus everyone knew him to be Mr Geary, a commercial traveller, returning to Ireland via the Holyhead ferry, to replenish his whiskey samples at the distillery.
The final passenger, a tall dark-haired Navy Captain, the handsome and taciturn second son of a rich and important family, had been sent on leave while his wounds healed and the naval boatyard repaired and refitted his ship, the HMS Marshall.
The Captain's wounds and the damage to his ship were results of the battles he'd fought trying to prevent the Barbary pirates’ slaving ships raiding the south coast of Britain. They had been raiding Britain for more than four hundred years, and were even mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys at the time of King Charles the Second.
The black slave trade from Africa to America had been mostly stopped a decade earlier, but Barbary pirates paid no attention to British law, and continued to take white slaves to sell in the markets of North Africa.
In 1816 he sailed with the Royal Navy fleet to lay siege to the port of Algiers, and as a result slavers were no longer received there, but there were still numerous market places in North Africa which were eager to take white slaves. Particularly inexperienced young women.
A quietly spoken and polite, self-effacing man, the Captain's accent placed him as a son of the Home Counties.
His tribulations and heroism were not evident in his manner and he tried not to draw attention to himself in public. As a result of his wounds he walked with a stick, which his ship's carpenter had fashioned from a polished teak balustrade found floating close to where they had sunk one of the pirate boats.
The travelling salesman, frequently forgetting the ladies were real ladies and not the type who hung around some of the places where he plied his trade, needed a few reminders from the Captain before he became more careful of his manners and the tone of his language.
The party after that became quite convivial, even when they had been forced to walk beside the coach while the coachman and his assistant worked it through the worst of the muddy obstacles, or up the steepest hills.
The coach came to a halt at the inn and the passengers started stretching; they all needed a break to exercise their aching limbs.
Leaning forward to open the door the Captain found the driver, Bill Turnbull, a stocky weather-beaten Yorkshireman, was holding it shut.
"Excuse me, Sor!" Bill whispered. "Summat's not right here. Jake 'ud usually come out an meet us, an there's no orses in them paddocks. I best look round afore yous leave the coach and gets all muddied."
"Ah'll cum wi ya," his mate, a similarly favoured man, called down as he climbed off the box behind the driver's seat, bringing a good sized cudgel with him.
Watching them approaching the door of the inn, the whiskey salesman remarked to Captain Beaumont that the coachmen looked a handy pair. If robbers should accost them, they'd get more than they bargained for.
Beaumont agreed but insisted, "We shouldn't alarm the ladies by speaking of such things."
Tipping his hat, the salesman apologised. "Please excuse me, ladies, I spoke without thinking."
The older of the two young ladies replied with a polite smile, "Do not concern yourself, sir, we were not at all alarmed."
Finding the strong oak front doors were already ajar and before committing himself by crossing the threshold, Bill Turnbull pushed them open a bit further and peered inside. He could see the empty room with apparently nothing amiss.
"Jake, are ye there?" he called, but there was no reply. Calling again only louder, he still heard no answer and nodding to his mate for agreement he entered.
The door protested as he pushed it further open and entered the chilling silence of the room.
With a cold tremor creeping down his spine making him shudder, Bill turned to his mate, and could see by his face he had the same feeling.
"There's summat not right ere!" he exclaimed, his pipe shaking and spilling lighted tobacco as he haltingly entered the room. "Summat bad as appened ere, ah can feel it!" The sound of their footsteps echoed round the empty room as, pushing past their fears, they crept further into the inn.
Outside, all remained quiet for a time and the passengers in the coach began to think there might be no-one in the building, but their bones chilled when they heard furniture being knocked over and loud anguished cries of "Oh my God … Oh my God!"
The sound of more crashing furniture echoed from the inn, followed a few seconds later by the coachmen falling through the door together and scrambling to get out of the building before collapsing in the mud beside the door, retching and gasping for breath.
The coach passengers looked on horrified until, turning his attention to the travelling salesman sitting beside him, the Captain calmly and quietly asked, "Mister Geary, do you have any means to defend yourself and the ladies?"
In answer the salesman pulled a matching pair of the new design of Colt revolvers from his case and asked, "Would these do the job, Sorr?"
"Will you load them and be prepared? I'm going to find out what has happened in there. Excuse me, ladies." Jumping down from the coach door Beaumont, forgetting his wounds, groaned through gritted teeth when his foot hit the ground and pain shot up his injured leg.
The rain had stopped falling now, and brandishing his stout cane Captain Beaumont strode towards the building, trying his best to disguise his limp.
"What's happened in there, driver?" he demanded. "Can I be of service?"
"Ahm sorry, Sor. Don't go in thar, Sor, it ain't just murder, it's bad, it's awful bad!" Turnbull cried between gasps. "I ain't never seen nothing like it, and Jake were a gud man."
"I'd better go and see. I've seen some bad things aboard ship, and it'll be better if you have my word backing you up when we report it."
Captain Beaumont took a deep breath and limped determinedly into the building.
Despite the midday light, the room remained dark. Scruffy, faded yellow blinds covering the small windows cast a dark ochre hue on the scene.
Feeling the icy cold fingers of fear creeping down his spine, Captain Beaumont entered. Some of the chairs and a table had been overturned when the driver and his mate fled in terror, but the rest of the room looked calm and quiet.
The smell of pipe smoke and stale beer filled the air; the serving hatch in the wall had been closed, and tankards stood on its ledge waiting to be washed or refilled.
Dark oak beams stretching across the smoke stained ceiling made the main room feel smaller and dingier, creating a gloomy atmosphere.
The Captain marched across the room and pushed against the only door he could see. It was already partly open but the hinges complaining at the disturbance felt stiff, and something prevented him from opening it all the way.
Beaumont eased himself through the opening into the darkness of the room. The grubby blinds still pulled over the small window near the ceiling prevented any sunlight finding its way in. The only illumination came from the subdued yellow glow creeping through the partially opened door.
His shoes stuck to the floor as he moved and striking his wounded knee against the door, Beaumont winced. He took a moment to light a Vesta, bringing a glimmer of light into the room.
In the flickering light of the burning match the full horror of the scene was revealed. Although he only had the dimmest glimpse, it made him gasp and drop his one source of light.
Taking another Vesta from the box he struck it on the pad and braced himself for what he now knew was waiting for him.
Beaumont could make out the remains of a body on the floor, which he thought must have been Jake Hobson, the coaching-inn manager.
Jake's throat had been ripped away so that only the bones of his spine and a few sinews were preventing his head from separating from his body. The blood that should have reached his brain had sprayed out like a fire hose over the opposite wall until his heart stopped and the pumping ceased.
His chest had been ripped open and his ribs wrenched apart, exposing what few organs were still there. His intestines were pulled out and thrown like a long and bloody snake over the bedroom floor made slippery by his gore.
Still attached to the shreds of his windpipe, his lungs were thrown out each side. His chest was like a great bloody cavern; his heart, liver and kidneys were missing, having been torn from their blood vessels, which were left hanging in the air to drip blood until it congealed. Lumps of flesh had been torn away and, the Captain shuddered when he thought they had been eaten.
Something had been drinking the pools of blood, lapping it up. The shape of a massive tongue could be seen in the congealed remains.
Captain Beaumont had little experience of precisely what should be inside a man's body, but he knew from the size of the empty cavity in Jake's chest and the hanging blood vessels that a lot of what should be there had been ripped out.
He could feel the bile rising in his throat when he guessed that, like the flesh, the missing organs had been eaten.
The victim's wide, staring-eyed look of pain and horror made Beaumont wonder if he had still been alive through some of his torment.
With the stench of death filling his nostrils the murder scene was becoming too much to bear. The heat from the Vesta's flame burnt his fingertips, making him curse and drop the match, leaving him in darkness again. He decided that, there being no help he could bring to the unfortunate man, it would be better to leave the room.
Waiting at the door, a concerned Bill Turnbull asked, "Are you orl-right, Sor?"
The Captain looked pale. "Yes, thank you. I've seen some bad things in battle, but never anything like I saw in there. What kind of monster could have done something like that, what would have such strength? Surely no human could be that insane?!"
"Keeping that thought in mind, Sor," Turnbull replied, "follow me; we checked on why we couldn't see any fresh orses."
Leading the Captain round behind the building, the driver pointed at a pile of equine corpses.
It didn't need a close examination to see they had received the same treatment as Jake, and looking round the paddock Beaumont could see where they had been killed and the tracks through the mud where they had been dragged into the corner.
"I suggest we leave here as quickly as we can. Whatever did this might come back, and we don’t want the ladies to meet it!" exclaimed Beaumont. "Where is the nearest town of any consequence?"
"That'd be Hinckley, Sor, it's only about four mile," Bill replied.
"Very well, we'll go to the police there and report what we've seen."
Climbing back into the coach he announced to the waiting passengers, "I'm sorry, but a serious crime has been committed; we are going to make a detour into Hinckley to report it."
"Well, I had a few days in hand," the travelling salesman smiled grimly, "but what of you ladies?"
"It won't be a great inconvenience, they don't know exactly when to expect us," replied the older lady, placing her hand on her young companion's hands and smiling reassuringly.
Captain Beaumont realised for the first time how beautiful these young ladies appeared, and how distracted he'd been on the journey not to have noticed thus far.
He'd been dwelling on his last battle. They had won the day sinking two of the Barbary pirates' boats in a Cornish bay, but he'd lost some good men in that action, and although they fought for a worthy cause they didn't deserve to die.
The kidnapped women had been rescued, saved from being paraded naked at the North African slave market, to be sold into a lifetime of slavery or used as concubines for the sheikhs.
Despite his position as Captain and long experience in fighting for England, Beaumont hated to lose a single crew member; he knew all his men by name, and felt it as badly as losing a member of his family.
When he could, he tried to visit the bereaved families, but if that proved impossible he wrote to tell them of their husband or son dying heroically in defence of the realm.