Set This House on Fire

by William Styron

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Chapter 4 Summary

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When Mason returns from chasing the girl he wanted to kill, Peter is irate. He says Mason invited him down to Sambuco, but he will not stay around for the things he has seen on his first day. Mason explains that the girl, Francesca, has been robbing him for a long time. Mason goes to dress and returns. He explains to Peter that he has been able to visit the local PX (Marine Corps Exchange) because he was a former pilot, though in fact he was a draft dodger, as Peter knows. They hear Cass below—he is even more drunk than he was previously. Cass joins them and soon puts on a “show” for the film group. Cripps, one of the people working on the film, is disgusted with Cass and joins Peter in taking him away.

Poppy is upset that Cass is once again drunk and making a spectacle of himself. Luigi, a local police officer, begs him to stop getting drunk. Poppy tells him he is a bad example to their children. Cass shows Peter a bottle of pills he stole; they are intended to cure consumption. Cass and Peter take them to a man named Michele who is ill and needs the medicine. Michele rants and raves against God, that He should put men on earth to suffer so. Cass leaves, no longer drunk but raving himself against politics.

Peter decides he has had enough of Mason Flagg and moves out of the hotel room Mason reserved for him. He accepts Cass’s invitation to stay with him. He sleeps all day but awakens to go outside. A woman comes screaming down the street. Peter goes up to his former hotel, where the concierge tells him a peasant girl has been raped and mutilated and is currently at the point of death. The crime was committed by Mason Flagg, who is also dead; he threw himself over the cliff. Peter runs to the spot to find Luigi, Cass’s friend. Peter is questioned by the police as to Mason’s nature. Peter says he was not a psychopath, though he feels that he is lying. The police do not believe him and will not let him look at Mason’s body.

Peter returns to Sambuco to find that the movie crew has left. He finds Poppy, who is overcome by what has happened. He learns that the girl, Francesca, the peasant Mason raped and mutilated, is almost dead. Cass returns, but he is drunk. He seems to be connected with Mason’s crime but is incoherent. Poppy comforts him, and Peter notices that Cass seems to have aged a dozen years.

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