On a rainy winter evening, the senior members of the Society for Psychical Research were gathered around the fireplace in the comfortable living room of the SPR headquarters. While each one lit his pipe, Sir Henry Sidgwick offered to tell them an intriguing story that he was told the last summer when he was with his family in Wales. And it was told to him as a true story. Everyone nodded and listened with interest:
In a small Welsh village lived a married couple very well matched in everything except in their beliefs about life after death, where they both diverged. Mrs. Robinson believed in the Afterlife, Mr. Robinson in the Beforedeath. The village was equally divided with respect to an old woman who lived in a cabin on the outskirts of the town. Some said that she had paranormal faculties and the others claimed that she had “disturbed” faculties. Of course, Mr. Robinson was aligned with the latter and Mrs. Robinson with the first. For her part, the old woman was aligned with those who believed her crazy. One day, after an argument with her husband about the only issue on which they disagreed, Mrs. Robinson proposed to Mr. Robinson to go both to the old woman’s house and maybe there they would get some place. Of course, he agreed: I’ve already said that except in that particular subject, in everything else they always agreed. So one day the two walked hand in hand to the house of the old woman, which was located at the edge of the forest. As the hut was empty, they decided to go a bit into the forest with the presumption that they would find her there. And so it happened. But when they were about to appear before her, they stopped suddenly paralyzed with astonishment. Because the old woman was accompanied by a beautiful lady dressed strangely. According to Mrs. Robinson, it was a fairy. According to Mr. Robinson, it was a girl disguised as a butterfly. Again the two got into an argument. They raised their voices too loud, which put the old woman on alert and she hastened to say goodbye to her beautiful companion. Then she presented herself before the couple. They immediately stopped arguing and excused themselves for having interrupted her. The old woman asked them what were they arguing about, to which they responded that they did not agree about the identity of the young lady who was with her an instant before. “What young lady?” the old woman asked. “The girl disguised as a butterfly” said Mr. Robinson. “The forest fairy”, corrected his wife. “Oh!” exclaimed the old woman laughing, “that lady was just a figment of my imagination”. The spouses looked at each other with surprise and replied to the old woman that it could not be her imagination since they had also seen it. As you see, in this they also agreed. This time it was the old woman who dissented. “In that case”, she said, “the both of you are as crazy as me!”, and started laughing again.
“What a brazen old woman! How dare she call them crazy!”, Nathan Fritz opined as Sidgwick concluded his account. “Ah, then you believe in the existence of fairies”, said Myers who saw the chance to whip Fritz, one of the most skeptical members of the SPR. “Fairies!”, Fritz erupted, “what a nonsense! I do not believe in the existence of wolves, and you pretend that I believe in the existence of fairies?!”. “We’ve had this discussion fifty times already,” Gurney interjected, “how can you not believe in wolves? I have seen them on the continent”. “Until I see them with my own eyes I will not believe it”. “The fact that wolves appear in fairy tales does not mean they do not exist” intervened Sidgwick. “And the same could be said of fairies,” said his wife Eleanor. This pertinent comment by Mrs. Sidgwick was followed by a deep and thoughtful silence. Then they all got up from their chairs, put out the embers of the hearth, and everyone went home. That night more than one member of the SPR dreamed of ladies with butterfly wings.