A Simple Enquiry (Hemingway)

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A Simple Enquiry
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A major questioned his orderly about his love life and desires, testing the young man's honesty and loyalty, while the adjutant observed the interaction from the next room.

In a small hut during late March, a major and his adjutant were working on some paperwork. The major had a sunburned face and was applying oil to it while he worked.

The Major — burned and tanned face; careful and inquisitive; army officer.

After a while, he decided to take a nap and left the adjutant to finish the work.

The Adjutant — non-commissioned officer; observant and diligent; enjoys reading.

The adjutant tried to read a book but found that he had too much paperwork to do, so he continued working.

The sun went behind a mountain, and a soldier named Pinin came in to put some wood in the stove.

Pinin — major's orderly; dark-faced, young, and awkward; in love with a girl.

The adjutant told him to be quiet because the major was sleeping. Later, the major called for Pinin to come into his room. Inside, the major asked Pinin if he was nineteen years old and if he had ever been in love with a girl.

You have ever been in love? How do you mean, signor maggiore? In love — with a girl?

Pinin said that he had been in love but did not write to the girl.

The major asked if Pinin was sure about his feelings and if he was not corrupt. Pinin did not understand what the major meant by corrupt, and the major told him not to be superior. The major then asked if Pinin's true desire was something else, but Pinin continued to look at the floor.

You’re a good boy, Pinin. But don’t be superior and be careful some one else doesn’t come along and take you.

The major told Pinin that he could go back to his platoon if he wanted, but it would be safer for him to stay on as the major's servant. Pinin asked if the major needed anything else, and the major told him to go back to what he was doing and leave the door open. Pinin left the room, and the adjutant noticed that he seemed different than before. The major, lying on his bunk, wondered if Pinin had lied to him.

The little devil, he thought, I wonder if he lied to me.