“The Bet” is the story of a bet between a banker and a young lawyer. As the story begins, an old Banker is in his room remembering one party 15 years ago when at that time he was young and very well-off. At the party guests eventually started talking about death penalty and life imprisonment and which one of those was worse. Most of the guests (journalists and scientists) didn’t approve death penalty but there was one young Lawyer who said that both death penalty and life imprisonment were inhuman and cruel because the State was not God and it could not take individuals life slower (through imprisonment) or faster (by executing him).
So it could not take something that it could not give back. But the Banker said that death penalty was better because life imprisonment was just a slow death; the banker argued that capital punishment is more humane than life imprisonment, while the young lawyer disagreed, insisting that he would choose life in prison rather than death.
As the argument became more intense, the banker in blind anger wagered two million rubles that the lawyer could not withstand the experience incarceration, a challenge that the lawyer accepted, setting the period of his voluntary imprisonment at fifteen years, at the end of which he would get the two million rubles. The lawyer was imprisoned in the banker’s garden house in complete isolation, allowed no visitors, no letters, and no newspapers. He was allowed books, music, wine, and tobacco.
The banker watched the development of the young lawyer’s adjustments to his imprisonment. During the first year, he read ‘books of a light character’ and played the piano and rejected drinking wine and smoking tobacco. In the second year, he stopped being interested in music but turned to classics. In the fifth year, he lay on his bed, drank wine, and played the piano. Then for four years he studied languages, history, and philosophy before moving to the New Testament and to theology.
Finally, his reading became miscellaneous. He read anything and everything At the beginning of the story, the day on which the banker is recalling the events of these fifteen years, he is within a day of the final accounting, when, no longer rich but oppressed by debt, he will be ruined by paying the two million rubles. Desperate, the banker decides to unlock the garden house door and to kill the lawyer, throwing the blame on the guard. When he enters the room, he sees a withered man, asleep at the table.
In front of him is a paper, on which he has said that he hates everything in human life, even the books in which he has learned about it, and that, he plans to leave his room five minutes before the fifteen-year period is finished, as a consequence forfeiting the bet. After reading the note, the banker had deep contempt for himself. The next morning, he learns that the lawyer has indeed left the garden house. So there will be no rumors, the banker puts the note in his safe.