An amiable, rather autumnal novel about the coming-of-age of an orphan during the Civil War, by a prolific western historian (The American West, 1994) and novelist (Conspiracy of Knaves, 1987, etc.). In a lively, appropriately picaresque narrative, Ben Butterfield, in the twilight of the 19th century, looks back at his life on the frontier and muses about the great love of his life. Orphaned under mysterious circumstances, Ben spent a hardscrabble childhood in Texas before falling in with the laconic (and somewhat lethal) scout Johnny Hawkes, a man supremely skilled in all matters having to do with horses. In 1862, Johnny and Ben, an adolescent, are recruited, by an arrogant and somewhat duplicitous Union officer, to drive two camels captured from the Confederate forces north to St. Louis, through the bloody, contested territory of Kansas and Missouri. Along the way they encounter outlaws, Confederates, a variety of hapless Union troops chasing both groups, some happily homicidal townspeople, and a young woman, Queen Elizabeth Jones, passing herself off as a boy. Elizabeth, Ben, Johnny, and the harried handler of the camels, an Egyptian named Hadjee, survive assaults and adventures, and Ben and Elizabeth, despite the obstacles, get the camels through. Meanwhile, Ben, confronted with crises and betrayals, grows up and falls in love with Elizabeth. Brown has a deft hand with dialogue, giving it a believable tang without overdoing the regional color, and his portraits of a war- ravaged countryside, devastated farms, and hard-bitten groups of men hunting each other across a harsh landscape are memorable and convincing. Ben, Elizabeth, and Johnny go on to join a circus, but their lives as entertainers, and the tragic end of Ben’s romance, are treated in a somewhat desultory fashion. Still, this is a sweet-natured, vigorous, colorful entertainment, and a compelling portrait of the frontier.