Chekhov's famous story "The Bet" is beautifully crafted. It begins close to the climax and then provides necessary exposition in a flashback. The banker, from whose point of view the story is told, bet a young lawyer that he could not stand to be kept in solitary confinement for fifteen years. At the time they made the rash bet the banker was a prosperous man; he had suffered some financial reverses over those fifteen years, however, and now he was faced with the ruinous prospect of having to pay his prisoner the large sum of two million rubles, because the scholarly, self-sufficient man had managed to endure the fifteen years of solitary confinement. The banker decided that his only recourse was to murder his captive but was unexpectedly saved from having to commit such a dastardly crime by the lawyer's voluntary relinquishment of the money.
As the title might suggest, Anton Chekhov's "The Bet" follows the story of a bet made after an argument over capital punishment and life imprisonment. Two guests at a party--a banker and a lawyer--debate this, with the banker believing that capital punishment is more humane and wagering two million rubles that the lawyer could not deal with a life of being locked up. The lawyer agrees to voluntarily serve fifteen years in captivity in the banker's garden house; if he can do so, he will win the two million rubles.
The banker's situation has changed dramatically at the conclusion of the fifteen years, however, and he is now riddled with debt and incapable of paying out the two million rubles without completely bankrupting himself. Fortunately for the banker's account (although not so much for his guilty conscience), the lawyer has come to despise human life during his imprisonment and forfeits the bet by leaving just shy of the date he was allowed to depart.