After a great dinner and a good rest it was time to return to work. The Three Inseparables found each other in the common room. Porthos walked down the stairs delivering goodbye kisses to the two girls who saw him from the railing on the second floor; all of them were vigorous and cheerful, like all daughters of the French countryside. Aramis was behind him, fresh as a morning rose. His clothes proclaimed the care he took of his grooming, and his smile denounced a pleasant night. Athos, almost simultaneously, arose from the room floor where the innkeeper had taken him when he fell asleep at a table. Even though he had taken the time to improve their appearance, the sawdust on his clothes made him look more tousled than his peers.
“Good morning,” Aramis greeted, shaking the shavings from his friend’s shabby doublet.
Athos grumbled what appeared to be an answer and sat down at the table. It was obvious that he was still trying to clear his head of the spirits.
“Today we woke up happy as Easter bells, right?” Porthos said trying not to laugh a lot.
In reply, Athos gave him a heavy look.
“My friend,” Aramis called the innkeeper. “I think it's time to pay our bills.”
“As you like, gentleman!” He was quick to serve them, carrying a piece of slate where consumption had been recorded. “Let's see ... Three rooms, three dinners and eight bottles, plus other commodities, a total of 30 louis, gentlemen...”
“There are ten louis apiece, comrades,” Porthos concluded, who was the best to split the scot.
Athos did not answer, his only movement was to put a few shiny coins on the table. Apparently, he had not drunk all that he won by betting the night before. Aramis picked them up with a gesture of annoyance, and he and Porthos were commissioned to pay the full amount. While they piled coins, under the suspicious eyes of the innkeeper, Athos turned his attention to the piece of slate. His eyes searched the charges and found a suspicious item.
“Stop!” Athos ordered it with a growl. “This man is charging us for a Beaujolais when he served a wine from the region!”
“Diable!” Porthos cried, his countenance changing according to circumstances. “It seems that someone is trying to be too clever for his own good!”
“I assure you that this is a mistake,” the innkeeper muttered, running his hands on his apron to dry his sticky hands. “Perhaps the gentleman...”
“If Athos says it was not Beaujolais, then it was not.” Aramis’ gaze said it was in his best interest not to doubt the trio's drunken person as his two sober comrades were ready to make him swallow his words. “That is not up for discussion.”
“Of course, gentlemen, what I meant is that perhaps the gentleman would accept a deduction of three louis for the confusion...”
“Five”, Porthos interrupted, had been busy doing calculations with his fingers. “The difference is five louis on our side. ”
Reluctantly, the innkeeper returned the five coins, which Aramis took care of as they left the inn. Once on horseback and as they left the village, the three cared to buy a miche for the road. In total, they spent two coins and happily shared the remaining three pieces.
They rode in silence while nibbling their ration. The fresh country air cleared them from the tavern atmosphere where they had spent the evening. Occasionally, Athos pointed out a hawk flying over their heads, while Porthos made his companions pay attention to the young ladies who worked raising crops in the early morning light. Aramis had long lost his intention to make his friends accompany him on his morning devotions.
“There is a lost louis,” said Athos when they arrived at a crossroads.
“What?” Aramis’ voice sounded startled.
“All of us recover a louis, that means we pay nine apiece. Three times nine equals twenty-seven and two of the bread are twenty-nine.” Athos calculated aloud while adjusting his hat. “We lack a louis.”
His companions looked puzzled, the logic behind the calculation seemed flawless. They traveled some distance further, calculating and recalculating, trying to find the lost louis. Hawks and girls were taken from their minds as they sought the lost coin through one of the oldest of the arts, but apparently even the most astute of the Pythagoreans could not tell them where that gold coin went.
“I can not find the piece,” Aramis said after he ran though the calculations.
“Neither can I,” Porthos said, shaking the crumbs off his doublet.
“And I, less than anyone else,” Athos concluded from under his hat.
“You seem to care little about it, Athos”
“Must be because I'm more than accustomed to losing coins, dear abbé.”
Porthos bit his whiskers on frustration: first the half-thief innkeeper —like all of his business— and now the lost coin. As he attempted to untangle the mess, his horse was munching fresh grass, for they marched with an easy speed. Aramis was red with shame. If there was a lost coin it should be his fault, because he had been responsible for the company accounts.
“We didn’t spend that money,” said Aramis, a little later.
“No, we didn’t,” Porthos and Athos proclaimed in unison.
“So where did we lose that louis?”
“The devil take me if I know!” Porthos almost cried, definitely at the end of his patience.
“There is no need to use coarse language...”
“Look, dear abbé, if you're so worried about the coin, I shall give you one!”
“That's not the point, my friend.”
“So what's the point?”
“The point is that the arithmetics is faulty,” Aramis said with that tone that made clear he knew more than his friend, “and doubting arithmetic is almost the same of questioning God!”
“Do not treat me like fool, and arithmetic can fail.”
“No, it cannot, it's the same here, in Spain, and in England!”
Athos smiled under his hat, listening to the heated discussion that his friends were having, wondering when it would be best time to clear the problem for them, the problem whose solution he had for a couple of leagues along the way.