Kevin Killian compiled the following transcription of the silent 1923 Rin Tin Tin feature film Where the North Begins, the source for John Ashbery’s play The Compromise, to accompany Killian’s essay “Ashbery’s Theater” in Conjunctions:49.
North of ’51 is a land of endless snow and whispering pines—of trackless wastes and brooding silence.
The “Caribou Limited.”
In the observation car travels a tiny immigrant, bound for the trading post of Caribou—Little knowing what Fate holds in store for him.
So the “Caribou Limited” went on, unaware that its passenger had been taken prisoner by the ravagers of the trail.
A year passes, and like a foundling rescued by strange hands, the puppy grows to maturity among the savage pack.
Though he develops the cunning and fierceness of a wolf, his dog instinct keeps him aloof from his wolf brethren.
At the trading post of Caribou, on the edge of this bleak wilderness, is the McTavish home.
Felice McTavish—daughter of the home.
Gabrielle Dupree—Felice’s sweetheart home from a long journey over the snows.
Shad Galloway, “factor” of Caribou trading post, who has long cast a covetous eye on Felice, daughter of McTavish, his storekeeper.
“Ma cherie, I bring you one little big surprise.”
“At Skagway my friend, Pierre Polaire, he die—”
“—and he ask me, please take care of baby—so I take.”
Galloway, domineering the post, used his position as “factor” to mask his evil doings.
“The Company’s furs are ready to go but there isn’t a man on the post who will take them over Caribou Pass.”
“Why not?” “Because so many men who have taken the furs this winter never came back.”
“Gabrielle Dupree is back. Tell him I want to see him tonight.”
At his cabin that evening, Galloway expectantly awaits Gabrielle’s visit.
Marie—whom Caribou tactfully refers to as Galloway’s housekeeper.
“M’sieur, you send for me?”
“Gabrielle, would you like to make five hundred dollars?”
“Sure, M’sieur, with five hundred dollars I marry with Felice.”
“The Fox,” another member of Galloway’s household—a slave to his evil bidding.
“When can you leave for Skagway with the furs?”
“In the morning, M’sieur.”
“I bring good news to my Felice. Galloway pay me five hundred dollars to carry the furs to Skagway.”
“You must not go! The men who have tried it this year have never come back! The devil himself watches the Pass!”
“If the devil say one word to me, I bring back tips of his tail.”
Galloway, planning with one stroke to rob the company and remove a rival, sends “The Fox” ahead.
Caribou Pass, the death trap—a week’s journey from the post.
For hours Gabrielle lies unconscious, helpless in the raging blizzard.
To the dog reared by wolves, man is a kind of prey he has never seen before.
The battle for the prey—dog against wolf.
And something within him—heritage of dog ancestors, said No—Man was not his enemy, but his Master and Friend.
As the wounded man regains consciousness, the friendly instinct of the dog gives way to the distrustful instinct of the wolf.
With the furs safely hidden, “The Fox” returns to make sure that he has completed the job.
Homeward bound, Gabrielle and his new found friend take refuge in a trap line cabin.
Man’s companionship—something he has never known.
“Now my friend, you must not look!”
“Some day, you find this man for me.”
Assured by “The Fox” that Gabrielle is dead, Galloway takes advantage of his opportunity.
“You sent for me—you have news of Gabrielle?”
“Yes—and I’m sorry to say it’s bad news—”
While his old friends at home mourn for Gabrielle—
Night under Northern skies—with kind calling to kind.
Another night nearer home—alone in the great solitude.
Dreary nights filled with torturing memories.
“I forget my friend.”
“But for him, Felice, your Gabrielle is one big icicle.”
“Gabrielle come back—I see him!”
Determined to place himself above suspicion, Galloway orders an investigation.
“I believe Gabrielle knows more about the disappearance of the furs than he cares to tell.”
“What do you know about the disappearance of these furs?”
“All I know, I already tell Galloway.”
“But didn’t you see the man who shot you?”
“No—but my friend know him. He bring this piece of him back to me.”
“You see what my friend do when he find him.”
“Someone will kill that dog if you let him attack other people that way.”
“My dog take care of himself. He know what he do.”
Gabrielle’s cabin—just across the clearing from that of McTavish.
“The dog, he no like the baby.”
“My dog—he give me idea who shot at me—pretty soon I know for sure.”
Realizing that the scent of suspicion is drawing uncomfortably near, Galloway acts quickly.
“Hide these furs in Gabrielle’s cabin—”
“—then I’ll get the police to search it—”
“—and look out for that dog!”
“—and I tell you, Galloway know something about this—because ‘The Fox’ he Galloway’s man.”
“I feel certain that if you search his cabin, you’ll find the furs.”
“I think you my friend—I trust you—and you kill the poor baby.”
“My dog—he kill the baby.”
“I told you that dog would kill somebody—and now it has struck home.”
“We’d better kill that dog now—before he gets someone else.”
“No one else kill him but me.”
“No, Gabrielle—the baby is safe in my cabin.”
“This doesn’t interest me—we came here to search for the furs.”
“We’d better search in here first.”
Headed for the wilderness, his great, warm heart broken by the one creature he had learned most to love.
“We’ve found ‘The Fox.’”
“Galloway, he send me to Caribou Pass to steal furs and kill men.”
“He make me put furs in Gabrielle’s cabin.”
The days that follow bring peace and joy to Felice and Gabrielle, with but one cloud to mar their happiness.
“I can’t understand why, after saving my life, the dog never came back.”
“He think I bad friend. He not understand how sorry I feel.”