This novel by a successful film scenarist is based on a startling spectacle--- an Italian circus, complete with elephant, lions, chimps and performers, wandering across the Kansas prairies of 1868. Sophie Venturi tells the story of how she and her father (circus owner and chief clown) brought their group of people and animals, gentled by generations of tradition and training, to astonish the raw frontiersmen- and found themselves broke. Sophie, fiery, determined, wasp-tongued, attracted (and was attracted by) the least likely of cowboy heroes the spineless, ne'er-do-well gambler, Charley Gallagher, who drifts to Sophie in times of trouble. The circus sells itself to a wealthy Texan; Sophie saves Charley from hanging at the hands of the same Texan (because she is carrying his child), and he is detailed to take the circus down to Texas. There are misadventures- not wholly Charley's fault; the equestriennes marry women-hungry pioneers; the lions escape; the chimps cause a stampede; the clowns turn cowboy; and in a memorable scene, the elephant is trailed by starving Indians but escapes to drown , with his keeper.... This extraordinary safari doesn't come to much (Charley, realistically, isn't really reformed) but it is full of diverting scenes written with one eye obviously on the big screen.