Thebet

Today I was thinking about a short story I read years ago called "The Bet" by Anton Checkhov. In the interest of a concise summary, it was basically about a young banker and a young lawyer who were debating the morality of life in solitary confinement or the death penalty. The lawyer thought that the death penalty was more cruel than solitary confinement and the banker felt the opposite. So, the banker bet that the young lawyer couldn't even stay in solitary confinement for five years, the lawyer challenged his bet and told him he could last 15 years. Two million dollars was the prize at the end of that time. The only rule was, for all intensive purposes, no human contact. He could read as many books as he wanted; eat, drink, etc as he pleased; most importantly, he couldn't have any communication with people.

As the years went on, the banker lost nearly all of his money and he was down to this mere two million (I have no pity for him, personally). So, mere days before the fifteen years have expired he is contemplating killing the lawyer so that he can't take the money. When he finally gets the balls to do this, he finds a note beside the sleeping lawyer that reads :

"To-morrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right to associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see the sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world.

"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women ... Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds' pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God ... In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms ...

"Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.

"And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe.

"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don't want to understand you.

"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the compact ..."

I don't know why I think about these things but for whatever reason, I don't mind. I just like to share these things with you.

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I liked it! Thanks for typing that all out. Or copy-pasting, as the case may be.

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