Set This House on Fire

by William Styron

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Chapter 7 Summary

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Recovering from his wounds from his fight with Mr. McCabe, Cass decides it is time to head even further south. Cass rides on a scooter, drunk most of the way. He faces many irritations but tries to raise his spirits by singing hymns. He arrives in Sambuco and finds his way to the Bella Vista hotel. Though it is somewhat run down, the hotel is host to several guests, including an old British couple. The proprietor, Windgasser, is dubious as to Cass’s nature. Cass sits before the fire, oblivious to those around him, unable or unwilling to refrain from passing gas loudly. He leans against the fireplace mantel and knocks over a large vase, which almost strikes the British couple. Chaos ensues, accusations are made, and Cass is thrown out. He slips and falls on the wet marble steps, striking his head and passing out.

Cass awakens in the police station, where the sergeant begins to berate him for being an American; he wishes the fascists were still in control to take care of people like Cass. A corporal named Luigi enters and takes over, explaining that the sergeant has a habit of giving speeches until the suspect offers to give him money. Cass is indignant that he should be expected to bribe the sergeant, but Corporal Luigi is a much more reasonable person. As they speak, a commotion breaks out in the other room. A young peasant girl is accused of theft, which she denies. Cass finds her breathtakingly beautiful but Luigi dismisses her as a mere peasant. He tells Cass that he will dismiss the charges against him, but he must pay for the vase. Cass is grateful and returns to the Bella Vista, where he apologizes to Windgasser, saying that he is diabetic and subject to attacks. Windgasser is sympathetic and gives him a nice room. Cass decides to book the room for two months and then returns to Rome to bring his family down to Sambuco.

Cass returns to Rome to find that Poppy no longer receives money from two businesses her family owns because she did not give permission for her attorneys to sell them before a highway was built some distance from them. They travel to Sambuco, but Cass becomes overwhelmed by Poppy’s inability to organize the home. Luigi suggests a local peasant girl who will work for food. On the street, Cass comes across a crowd surrounding a dog that has been run over. A doctor tries to put it out of its misery but ineffectually beats its head without killing it. This haunts Cass for some time.

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