Gruff Colonel Archie Taylor has difficulty enjoying his men's club due to the constant chatter of fellow member Jamie Tennyson. Just as irritating is the content which usually concludes with a transparent attempt to curry investors.
One evening, his friend and lawyer, Alfred, arrives to discuss a message Taylor sent to him. The colonel has proposed a wager, which is illegal in their state, but Alfred has found nothing else particularly criminal about it. Taylor then has the attendant deliver a note to Tennyson whose subsequent speechlessness amuses the other members.
Taylor explains to them that he has proposed a wager with Tennyson. He will bet $500, 000 that the younger man cannot remain silent for one year. He tells Tennyson: "Your voice has become intolerable to me. I sit here each night and the sound of it makes me wince." The constant chatter has become more than an irritant to him. The honorable Taylor has an intense dislike for the young man who lacks breeding and manners. He cannot ask Tennyson to resign so he has decided to get a few weeks or months of silence. He does not believe Tennyson can remain silent for that long and happens to know that the other man is in need of money which is why he keeps up his nightly financial discourse.
If Tennyson agrees, he will be enclosed in a small apartment in the club's game room and monitored by microphones to ensure he doesn't say anything. His requests will be made in writing and any member can come to visit him. Tennyson is offended, but agrees to the wager, requesting only that Taylor put a check on deposit in his name and have a copy available for the members of the club to view. The reputable Taylor balks at such a question of his honor and tells Tennyson his word will have to be good enough.
Alfred cautions Tennyson that Taylor is very serious about this, but Tennyson explains that the wife to whom he is very devoted has expensive taste and is largely responsible for his need for money. He has to take the bet.
Though he had assumed Tennyson would be successful for a few weeks, Taylor is astonished at how long the young man is able to go without speaking. After nine months, he begins getting nervous, particularly after Alfred confronts him about having the money to pay the wager if Tennyson wins. He offers Tennyson $1,000 to leave immediately under the guise of being concerned about the man's welfare. Tennyson refuses the offer and Taylor counters by bringing up the subject of the other man's wife.
Although Tennyson has sent several notes requesting that she visit, she has never responded even to the letters. Taylor mentions that she has been seen around town with a number of other men. Over the months, Taylor continues to bring Tennyson gossip about his wife until the other man seems to be to the point of breaking. Taylor offers him $5,000 to leave the room, but Tennyson has one month left and will not give up.
The evening arrives and the other club members are entertained by Taylor's solemn face. Alfred takes his friend aside and tells him about the rumors he's heard regarding Taylor's dishonorable behavior the last few months. He points out that, for someone who values honor so much, Taylor hasn't acted very honorably. He tells his friend that Tennyson is much stronger than they gave him credit for. Taylor has time only to lament how Tennyson was able to accomplish the feat before the time is up.
Tennyson emerges to the congratulations of the other members and approaches Taylor for the money. Taylor is embarrassed to admit that he lost much of his money a long time ago and has been successful at maintaining the charade until now. He explains that he tried to offer Tennyson whatever he could afford, but could never come up with half a million dollars. He uses the opportunity to praise Tennyson's resolve and for his character.
The distraught Tennyson begins to scribble furiously on a sheet of paper as everyone wonders why he doesn't speak. Taylor reads the note aloud, "I knew I would not be able to keep my part of the bargain, so one year ago I had the nerves to my vocal chords severed!"