At the beginning of the story, the banker arranges a bet with a young man. The banker bets that the young man, a lawyer, cannot live voluntarily in self-isolation for fifteen years. The lawyer accepts the bet, and if he proves the banker wrong, he stands to win two million rubles from the banker.
At the end of the story, the lawyer, or prisoner, is just a few hours away from winning the bet. The banker can no longer afford to lose the bet, and so he decides to kill the lawyer. However, when he enters the lawyer's room, he sees he is asleep and with a letter on the table beside him. The banker reads the letter, in which the prisoner says that he will forfeit the bet because he no longer wants the money. The banker is very relieved, not only because he will now not lose his two million rubles but also because he will no longer need to murder the prisoner. The banker, after reading the letter, lays it back down on the table and then kisses the prisoner on the head while the prisoner is still asleep. This kiss is a sign of the banker's relief and also of his gratitude to the prisoner.
After the banker has left the man's room, he feels "so great a contempt for himself" that he cannot sleep. The banker feels contempt for himself possibly because he is ashamed that he was going to kill the prisoner and possibly because of what he reads in the prisoner's letter. In his letter, the prisoner writes that he despises all "worldly blessings and wisdom," coming to the conclusion that he is "cleverer" than the rest of humanity, which death will wipe "from the face of the earth." He now loathes all earthly things and the way in which people live. Perhaps the banker feels contempt for himself because he recognizes some truth in these sentiments that he has just read in the letter.