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Only This Once

August 2009

     "I'll be in again very soon, mother; I am only going 'round the corner to see the new billiard rooms;" and, cap in hand, Harry was closing the parlor door when his mother called him back.
     "I cannot consent to your going there, my dear," she said; "you must know that both your father and myself disapprove of all such places."
     "But I don't intend to play, mother; only to look on; the boys say the tables are splendid; and besides, what could I tell Jim Ward after promising to go with him? He is waiting outside for me. Please say "yes - only this once."
     "Tell Jim that we rather you would remain at home; and ask him to walk in and spend the evening," said Harry's father, as he looked up from the paper.
     "Oh, I know he'll not do that!" and Harry stood turning the door handle, till, finding that his parents did not intend to say anything more, he walked slowly to the front step.
     "Why don't you hurry along," called Jim, "and not keep a fellow standing all night in the cold?"
     "I am not going. Won't you come in?" said Harry.
     "Not going! Your mother surely doesn't object to your looking at a billiard table!"
     "She would prefer I should not go," said Harry, and Jim's only reply was a significant whistle, as he walked off.
     "He'll be sure to tell all the boys!" said Harry, half aloud, as he shut the front door with more force than was necessary. "I don't see what makes father and mother so particular." Then, entering the parlor, he took the first book that came to hand from the table, and, taking a seat very far from the light, looked exceedingly unamiable.
     His father laid aside the paper, and without seeming to notice Harry's mood, said pleasantly, "I wonder if my son feels himself too old for a story; if not I have one to tell him which might well be named, 'Only This Once.' " The book was returned to the table; but Harry still kept thinking of what the boys would say when Jim told an exaggerated story, and his countenance remained unchanged.
     "When I was about your age, Harry," began his father, "we lived next door to Mr. Allen, who had one son. As Frank was a good-natured, merry boy, and had his two ponies, several dogs, and a large playground, he soon made friends."
     "Many an afternoon we spent together, riding the ponies, or playing ball on the playground, and one summer afternoon in particular, I never expect to forget, for it seems to me now, looking back upon it, as the turning point of Frank's life; but we little thought of such a thing at the time."
     "It was a very warm afternoon; and, becoming tired of playing ball, we had stopped to rest, when Frank proposed that we should take the ponies to a plank road a few miles from the house, and race them. I was certain that his father would disapprove of this, and, besides, it would have been most cruel work on such a warm afternoon, so I tried to make Frank think of something else he would like to do instead; but all in vain.
     " 'I think you might go, Charlie,' he said. 'What's the harm of doing it; only this once? I just want to see if either of my ponies is likely to be a fast trotter.' "
     "For one moment I hesitated, but in the next came the thought of my father's displeasure, and I shook my head.
     " 'Very well, just as you please, Mr. Good Boy! I know plenty who will be glad of the chance to ride Jet;' and so saying he walked away."
     "Frank did find a boy who was delighted to go with him, and enjoyed the race so much that, notwithstanding his father's reprimand, he managed to pursue the same sport more times than 'only that once.' "
     "As soon as the summer was ended, Mr. Allen went to Europe for his health, and I did not see his son again for three years, till I left the country and entered the same college with him."
     "Frank began studying very earnestly; but before the first year was ended, the earnestness had passed away. Friends would induce him to spend his evenings at their rooms, or at some public place of amusement, and each time Frank would try to satisfy his conscience with, 'It will be only this once.' "
     "Thus by degrees, his lessons were neglected, and as study became irksome, his love for excitement and revelry increased, till one day I overheard a gentleman, who knew him well, remark that he feared Frank's 'only this once' would prove his ruin."
     "But a few years before, Frank would have been shocked with the thought of spending the afternoons in racing, and evenings in billiard saloons. He had not at first really intended to visit these places more than 'once,' 'just to see for myself;' but there are very few who ever stop in the course of wrong doing at 'only this once.' "
     "At length his father died. When the sad tidings reached the son, he seemed more thoughtful for a time; but in an hour of temptation he yielded. Before long his old companions surrounded him again, and of them he soon learned how to spend the large fortune left him by his father, in a most reckless manner."
     "In vain his true friends tried to check him in his wild career; and, five years ago, my poor friend Frank died a drunkard."
     "Oh, father, how dreadful!" Harry shuddered.
     "Yes, it is dreadful, my son; but there are countless untold stories as dreadful as this one. If we were to visit a prison, and ask the inmates how it was that they were first led into crime, we should find that "only this once" brought most of them there. One took something which did not belong to him, never intending to do it more than that once; but the crime soon grew into a habit. Another was once tempted to gamble, and only that one game was the foundation of all his crimes. Another fully intended to stop with the first glass; but instead, became a reckless drunkard."
     "Learn, my son, to dread those three little words, and when tempted to use them, think of all they may lead to, and ask for strength to resist the temptation; and, Harry, do you wonder now at our refusing to allow you to visit the billiard room even once?"
     "No, father; I see now that you were right, and I was wrong in supposing that it could not possibly do me any harm to go only this once."

The Story "Only This Once"
is public domain.