SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!! (Not that there's much to spoil in this story)
Written in 1928, "The Last Test" is a revision by HPL of a story originally written by Adolphe de Castro, and it is a slog. I really had a hell of a time getting through this story. It brought my literary quest to a screeching halt for several weeks. Eventually I had to resort to using the audio Cliffs Notes of the Lovecraft library as my friends at the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast came to my rescue. Chad and Chris got me through by summarizing the section I was stuck on (in the usual entertaining fashion), and then I was able to pick up from that point and continue reading through to the end.
Even so, I found this story quite boring and generally stupid. Even Lovecraft himself called it "the story that ruined my winter," and a "beastly mess." It revolves around mostly three people--our hero, James Dalton, his spurned love interest, Georgina Clarendon, and her brother, Dr. Alfred Clarendon. It takes place over a span of many years, first setting up that the characters knew one another in New York when they were all young, then picking up much later when they have all moved and made lives for themselves in San Francisco.
Dalton and Georgina, whom he happens to still harbor a love for long after her now-deceased father disapproved of him as her suitor back in New York, run into one another in Frisco quite by accident. By this time, her brother Alfred is the staff doctor at San Quentin Penitentiary and a respected expert regarding a fatal black fever that has taken hold of the region. Similarly successful in his own field, Dalton is governor of California. Georgina helps her brother with his research.
Old feelings spring up between the old lovers, and when Dalton asks Alfred (whom he secretly refers to belittlingly as "Little Alf") for his blessing to marry Georgina, he's once again cockblocked, this time by the latest Clarendon patriarch.
Meanwhile, the fever plague has taken hold of San Quentin and the public fears it will jump the walls and spread among the populace. And here's where I'm going to skip a bunch of shit that doesn't matter...
Eventually it becomes clear that Clarendon has been actually infecting people with this fever plague in order to try to find a cure. In the end, he injects himself as a "last test," but he ends up dying too. And the two lovers marry and live happily ever after.
If you're thinking of reading this horrible story, think again. It's the literary equivalent of music torture at Guantanamo Bay. It's achingly dull, predictable, corny and emotionless. Thank goodness I can finally check it off my list. Whew. Maybe I can renew my pursuit of the goal before me now that I've faced what felt like the LAST TEST to my resolve. "Haa! I kill me!"