The story begins when an unnamed banker that had a flashback to a party that he held fifteen years ago one autumn night. On this night, the banker had a heated debate with his guests - specifically one young lawyer - over which punishment was more inhuman, capital punishment, the death penalty, or spending life in prison. The banker then staked two million for anyone who could stay in prison for five straight years, but when the young lawyer agreed, he then extended the time to fifteen years of solitary confinement. .
During those fifteen years the lawyer was supplied an unlimited number of whatever he wanted, but he just couldn't have any connection or contact with the outside world. The lawyer requested books, lectures, and the occasional wine during his stay inside the cabin. Over the fifteen years the lawyer decided that the material things in life turned people into what the banker was himself, and decided he wanted nothing to do with it. Therefore, the lawyer wrote a note to the banker that stated he would escape five hours before his fifteen-year sentence was to come to an end, because he did not want the money he was giving to him. Ultimately, this pleased the banker very much, because he was going to kill the lawyer due to the fact he no longer had the money to pay him, because he lost all his material items due to being so self absorbed and reckless. .
In this short story we are quickly introduced to two main characters: the banker and the lawyer. These two men bicker back and forth about which punishment is more inhuman, the death penalty or spending life in prison. Both men take opposites sides to, and suddenly a bet is struck between the two. The banker, who is for the death penalty, states that if the lawyer can last fifteen years in prison than he would pay him two million dollars. In these first couple of paragraphs Chekhov uses characterization to connect the readers more closely with the two main characters.