A ""fragment"" of a story called Emma appeared in a magazine shortly after Charlotte Bronte's death. And certainly there are moments in the opening chapter of this comfy 18th-century tale--about a redeemed orphan child, perfidious plots, and silver arrows of romance--that burn with the Bronte genius. After that, however, convincing period tone flattens out (phrases like ""sense of security"" creep in), though the tale remains entertaining enough through to the end. The child Matilda, a ""wretched little soul,"" is brought to the ladies' school run by Miss Wilcox--a cool lady with thin lips and a fervor for the well-being of wealthy pupils--by handsome toff Conway Fitzgerald, who is apparently Matilda's father. But weeks later it becomes obvious that Fitzgerald has disappeared for good, and poor Matilda, hitherto given ""princess"" treatment, is ordered forth in a tattered hand-me-down. Her savior is kind Mr. Ellin, ""very harmless and quiet, not always perhaps so perfectly unreserved and comprehensible as might be wished."" He whisks Matilda off to young widow Arminel Chalfort (who narrates the story), and Ellin and Mrs. Chalfort attempt to discover the child's history despite the fact that Matilda is silenced by an unknown terror. Eventually, after initial detective work by Ellin and reminiscences by Mrs. Chalfort about her grim marriage and persecution by step-children (including the dreadful Emma), Matilda becomes a cheerful, happy little girl who adores her new guardians. Finally, then, there's a kidnapping, a secret tale about a dead baby, a night visit to a tomb, flights, two deaths, and blackmail. Plus: a fairy-tale ending. Some minor fun for literary detectives, some lively diversion for romance-gothic traditionalists.