The one-act chamber opera is base don the short story of the same name by H.G. Wells. It is an exploration of voyeurism and a dark side of human nature that is latent in all of us.
Scene 1 opens to show a room in a house overlooking a river, which is partly visible through half-drawn curtains. Mrs Green and a man bring in and leave Bailey, who sings of his frustration at being confined to this room because of his infirmity. He finds that ordinary pastimes cannot alleviate the tedium, and we leave him pondering the coming days and weeks.
Scene 2 starts with Bailey in much the same dejected mood as in the previous scene, except now his desperation is rising. Mrs Green is in taking out breakfast dishes and on her way out opens the curtains completely. Suddenly a new world opens up to Bailey. Vessels of all shapes and sizes pass by and give him great entertainment to watch. He rejoices in the pleasure that this simple activity affords him.
In Scene 3, we see Bailey cheering a scene he is watching pass by. He comments that this diversion, which he once would have scorned, has been a lifesaver. He gets frustrated and impatient when nothing is happening, but hopes that one day he will get to see something exciting – a boat sinking, a rescue party and someone hauled out with a boat hook. Then the launch belonging to Fitzgibbon, a neighbour, moves into view. This he recognises instantly. Bailey notices that the dark-skinned (Malayan) servants are behaving oddly. One swaggers with a boat hook, the other just sits and watches the water trail away astern. He comments that this is an unwise behaviour, to be always watching the water like that. The boat moves on. Bailey now ponders the lives of those he watches through his window. They are from all over the world, and gather to pass in front of his window, seemingly to entertain him. He recalls the one particular occasion when a man rowed into view, had caught something, got into difficulty momentarily, and then went on again. Bailey may never see that man again, and as far as it concerns him, he may have lived his whole life to be sport for Bailey to watch for just a few seconds.
When Scene 4 opens, we see Bailey and the river on an uneventful day. Suddenly Bailey sees something in the distance in the fields on the far side of the river. He make out a man running his way, and it turns out to be one of the Malay servants of Fitzgibbon. A shot is fired, and Bailey realises that a manhunt is afoot. The man runs into our view, and then disappears downstream. Nothing more appears to be happening, when a commotion is heard from where the man has run, and he reappears, followed by a new set of pursuers. They chase him back upstream, just as the first party of chasers arrives. Fitzgibbon is among them, and they follow. The hunted man dives into the river and is once again hidden from view. All seems ms quiet, and Bailey laments not seeing the conclusion of the events. Suddenly Mrs Green arrives and is hysterical. Bailey is eager to know what she has to tell, but is disappointed with what she has to say. She was coming through the woods completely unaware of the fugitive’s presence, and only knew when she me met Fitzgibbon that anything was happening. She has been overcome me by her vulnerability. This disappoints Bailey, hoping for something far more interesting, Mrs Green chases perhaps. He asks her to get him something to eat, but in the middle of her protestations, something is in the tree outside the window. The fugitive climbs on to the deck and then into the window. Both Bailey and Mrs Green are helpless. A shot rings out, and the man collapses on to Bailey’s legs and dies. The party of men come in, comfort Mrs Green and start to clear away the body and debris. Fitzgibbon, with the rifle, did not really mean to kill the ma man, but Bailey is glad that he did. The scene darkens with Bailey, with the tiniest of grins on his face, staring at where the body had been.