Wishing For A Highlander

By: Jessi Gage



All she’d wanted from Kyle was for him to be a father to his child. But all Kyle had wanted was to marry a girl named Becky, whom he’d apparently been cheating with for some time. Now, Kyle was a happily married sperm-donor, and she was left to face a monumental and wonderful challenge all by her lonesome.

As she pedaled up Meeting Street, back to the Charleston Museum, she gave thoughts of Kyle and bitter old ladies the heave-ho, choosing instead to think about what made her happy: her loving and supportive parents, her friends, chocolate cream pie, the escape of a good romance novel, and her work organizing the Scottish immigrants exhibit opening next Friday.

Eeek! Friday!

That was only seven days away! And there was still so much to do, including finding a new keynote speaker for the grand opening, since Professor Calderwood, a distant relative of famous Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, had cancelled. Her brain whirring away with her to-do list, she shoved her bike into the rack behind the museum and got to work.

Hours later, with several disappointing phone calls and much eye-straining proof-reading under her belt, she finally laid her eager hands on the package Dr. Calderwood had Fed-Exed. A phone message indicated he’d sent several artifacts from his personal collection for her to include in the exhibit, and she’d looked forward to opening the package as her reward for an afternoon of hard work.

Inside were five carefully-wrapped items: a journal kept by a Scottish relative who had settled in Charleston in the 1890’s, a flintlock pistol, an antique rosewood box whose rich, dark finish reminded her of her grandmother’s prized hope chest, which had been in their family since the old days, and two gleaming sgian dubhs.

She appreciated one of the sgian dubhs first, running her gloved fingers over the flat of the blade and the intricately-woven leather-wrapped hilt. To think, some nineteenth-century warrior had carried this knife in his jacket or tucked in the top of his hose. A thrill of connection went through her until Alan’s voice at her office door made her jump.

“It’s nearly seven, Mel. Go home for God’s sake.”

She lifted her magnifying glasses to her head and smiled at her boss. “This is better than home. You need to see this stuff Dr. Calderwood sent.”

He shook his head. “I’ll take a look on Monday. Promise. Sam’s got a recital at school and I’m running late. I mean it. Go home. You need your rest.” He nodded at the barely noticeable swell of her belly.

“I’m pregnant, not an invalid, Al.” She gave him a wink to soften the rebuke as she lovingly set the first sgian dubhs aside and began fondling the other. “I’ll go home in a few. I just want to put these artifacts in the safe.”

“Uh-huh. Just make sure you wipe all the drool off before you do.” He gave a wink of his own before leaving.

“Mmm, finally, it’s just the two of us,” she said to the knife. “Well,” she amended as a stray finger caressed the other sgian dubh, “just the three of us.” The journal, pistol, and box suddenly looked sullen on her workbench. “Oh. Sorry. Just the six of us, then.”

She wished she could spend her evening giving each artifact the attention it deserved, but Alan was right. She could use some rest. And she had a frozen pizza and half a chocolate cream pie beckoning her to her apartment. “Monday,” she promised the artifacts as she placed them on a felt-lined tray for the safe.

As she gathered up the packaging materials to toss in the trash, she caught sight of a sheet of paper tucked in the bottom of the box. She pulled it out and gave it a quick scan. It was a letter from Dr. Calderwood in which he repeated his regret that he would miss the exhibit’s grand opening and offered a brief description of each item.

She couldn’t resist reading the letter in full. The couple of paragraphs about the box were especially interesting.



Rosewood box: Owned by Mr. Andrew Carnegie and bought at auction by yours truly October 1985.

Originating in the Scottish Highlands, as the inscription indicates, the box has an intricate opening mechanism that few have reportedly mastered. With no obvious latch on the outside, it is assumed that a series of pressure points when touched the right way releases an inner spring, which opens the lid. I personally have never been able to open it, and three separate antique dealers have inspected the box and concluded that whatever mechanism opens it is likely frozen with age.

In my research on Mr. Carnegie, I have uncovered an interesting story. In private, he would sometimes joke that his immense fortune was “due to nine-tenths hard work and one-tenth the luck of the Scotia rosewoods.”–Personal letter penned by Ryan Helmsford, close friend to Mr. Carnegie in his later years, 1901.–This may have been a reference to the rosewood box. Perhaps Mr. Carnegie had figured out how to open the beguilingly beautiful contraption and was granted his wish for prosperity.



Smiling at Dr. Calderwood’s tongue-in-cheek supposition, she put down the letter and lifted the artifact from the tray. About the size of a small jewelry box and with gracefully rounded edges and inlaid patterns of Celtic knotwork in white gold, it had more heft to it than expected. As the letter indicated, there was no visible latch anywhere along its seam.

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