Two friends a Banker and a Lawyer enter into a philosophical debate on the award of capital punishment and hold opposite view.While the banker is of the view that Capital punishment is better than a long term in solitary confinement , the Lawyer is of the view that even long imprisonment is the better option as even a hardened criminal can reform himself and become a better person and deserves to be given a chance.
They want to try it out practically . The Lawyer volunteers to subject himself to solitary confinement for fifteen years – totally cut off from the outside world with the stipulation that on successful completion of self imposed confinement, the Banker would pay him a sum of Two Million Rubles.The Lawyer is kept under strict observation and vigil in one of the lodges in the banker’s garden . He is allowed food, drinks,books, can listen to and play music , can write letters . He is required to jot down a written order/request for the things he needs. .He is not allowed to cross the threshold of the lodge; he cannot meet anyone , can’t hear human voice. The necessary items are passed on to him only through a small window , which is also a source of natural light. The initial phase of confinement finds the lawyer feeling lonely and dejected and he busies himself only with drinking and eating. Getting fed up with this routine, he takes to reading books and gets so much interested that he covers the entire gamut of knowledge about religion, history philosophy literature science,the Gospel and what not.He also learns many languages and reads classics.In between he writes a note to the banker in six languages challenging to find a mistake in the text. Gradually he gets evolved , becomes enlightened and is disenchanted with all things material like money, name , fame - virtually every thing that common people hanker after. As the fifteen years’ period draws near, the banker starts worrying as to from where he will arrange the huge sum of two million Rubles to the Lawyer, as during this period he has suffered a lot financially on his investments. .
A day before the completion of the term of solitary confinement , the Banker hits upon a plan to kill the lawyer so that he does have to pay anything. To carry out his plan , as he enters the lodge of the room , he finds a person sitting motionless, with his back towards the window, visibly reduced to a skeleton . In the candle light , the banker finds a note written on a paper which speaks of the transformation that the lawyer has undergone during this period. How he has become disillusioned and disenchanted with all material things . In the last part of the note he writes of his resolve to break the term of the agreement by leaving five hours before the term expires forgoing the wager amount as he thinks nothing of million of Rubles or any amount for that matter. The Banker puts back the dagger, carries the note and comes back weeping profusely and shedding tears of repentance.
The crux of the story is contained in the note itself . The decision of the Lawyer to break the pact unwittingly saves him from being killed by the banker and also saves the banker from the guilt and crime of committing a murder.
A masterpiece by Anton Chekov !