“With millions beyond his reckoning” the banker is a “spoilt and frivolous” man. A dissolute person, he fritters away his money gambling and partying.
In one of his lavish parties, the banker gets excited during a debate over the validity of capital punishment. When a young lawyer of twenty-five objects to his viewpoint, quite impulsively, he puts a weird bet before him.
The lawyer too, without giving it a second thought, immediately accepts the bet of spending fifteen years in solitary confinement. The banker declares he would give him two million rubles if is able to fulfill the bet.
In the meantime, while the lawyer spends his years reading everything under the sun, the banker indulges himself in gambling and self-gratification.
After fifteen years, “desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation and the excitability” has brought the banker close to becoming a bankrupt. The night before the completion of the bet by the lawyer, we find the banker rebuking himself for being impulsive when he entered the bet. He says,
“It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man…”
His fear of losing two million rubles makes him desperate and he decides to get rid of the pious lawyer. He says,
“The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!"
He goes to the lawyer’s cabin late at night with an intention to strangulate him to death. He further plans to arrange things in a way that the suspicion of his murder would fall on the watchman.
This exposes his moral hollowness. He falls so low that he becomes a most despicable old man.
However, towards the end, he’s able to win our sympathy by his tears of repentance. The lawyer’s letter stirs him up and he is filled with a strong sense of self-contempt. The lawyer has expressed his contempt for his wealth and so, he would renounce the prize money by losing the bet leaving only five hours before the period of fifteen years in solitary imprisonment is complete.
With tears rolling down the banker retires to his bedroom. He’s unable to sleep and weeps for hours on bed.
At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.
Thus, we see the banker undergoes a transformation. Though we are not told how the banker’s life changes after the incident, his tears are a testimony to his guilt-ridden conscious. We hope he'll make himself a man of strong character thereafter.