As soon as Leo comes of age, he is presented with the box and he finds within materials that tell and support a story about his ancestors in a time long before Christ. It tells how two lovers, a man and his wife, were relentlessly pursued and the man killed rather than become the husband of a mysterious woman. The wife escaped and had a child. The wife left materials and her testimony as proof of the horrible treatment and tasked her descendants with returning to Africa and exacting revenge for her husband's death. Also included is the notes from a more recent ancestor who said he tried to follow the instructions, found the right place and people, but failed to carry out the directive for revenge.
Holly says the materials either reflect a myth or the deranged imaginings of the recent ancestor, but Leo insists that he is going to follow the instructions whether Holly goes with him or not. The professor agrees to join him and they--along with their servant Job--travel to east Africa by boat. Their boat is wrecked and the only other survivor is their Arab captain. They are soon captured by a violent race of people who are ruled by a powerful white queen who has demanded that these strangers be brought to her. This queen, referred to as Hiya or She-who-must-be obeyed (shortened to just "She" throughout the book), is rumored to be thousands of years old.
Haggard wrote his novels during the height of the British Empire. Victorian and Empirical viewpoints are heavily represented from the depiction of the native folk of Africa to representation of a powerful woman. Although, She (or Ayesha--her real name) appears to be quite intelligent and crafty, her primary power over the men is in the wiles of her sex. She uses her great beauty to ensnare both Holly and Leo--making it near impossible for them to resist her. It is interesting, however, that Holly retains his reasoning powers even though quite enthralled by She's beauty and, in fact, holds quite detailed debates with her on many subjects. She even concedes that She might need to think over many of his views--though She absolutely will not give up the idea that Leo must belong to her.
An interesting Victorian adventure novel that runs just a tad long on the front end. While it was necessary to give the background for the adventure to come, Haggard had a tendency to over-explain and we definitely didn't need long passages in Latin (or Arabic or whichever version happened to be under examination amongst the materials in the box). A synopsis of the ancestor's story would have sufficed. ★★★
[Finished 7/17/18. I started this before my long vacation and then didn't read one word while traveling to and from Montana. Too many adventures of my own, I guess!]
*The cover shown above is not my edition. My edition is a boring, gray hardcover with nothing on the front.