Who has not heard of the submerged bells of Ys, and who has not heard them ring?
In the early days the city of Ys was ruled by a prince called Gradlon the Great. Gradlon was a prudent prince, and defended his capital of Ys from the invasions of the sea by constructing an immense basin to receive the overflow of the water at high tide. This basin had a secret gate. The king alone had the key to open and close it with at the necessary times.
Gradlon had a wayward child, the princess Dahut. Once while her father was sleeping, she gave a secret banquet to her lover. Drunk, the pair decided to open the sluice-gate. The princess stole noiselessly into her sleeping father's chamber. There she took the guarded key from his girdle and opened the gate. The water at once rushed in and began to submerge the city.
King Gradlon was awakened somehow, and tried to flee as the torrent was reaching the palace. He mounted his horse, set his witless daughter behind him, and set off at a gallop. The incoming flood seethed and boiled, and the torrent was about to overtake and submerge him when a voice called out: "Throw your witless daughter into the sea, if you will not perish."
At that moment the princess fell from the horse's back into the water and became a mermaid, and the torrent at once stopped. Gradlon managed to escape, safe and sound, but he no more could enjoy the sight of his daughter combing her golden hair in the midday sun, and he had lost is capital and the wealth he had gathered there too.
From time to time afterwards fishermen told of meetings with a golden-haired white daughter of the sea. They could sing her songs too. They were as plaintive and furtive as the sound of waves.
[Several versions are blended here.]
There lived in Vannes a great many years ago an honest and devout glover. His nearest friend was a tailor who lived in the place Henri Quatre, but he lay dying, and his friend the glover had stayed with him till a late hour doing all for him that he could.
Late as it was he saw, as he passed the cathedral that the doors were still open, and he turned into the church and knelt before the altar of one of the side chapels.
There was scarcely any light. Almost all the worshippers had departed, the place was wrapped in deep silence, and the poor glover, exhausted by his grief and by many nights of watching beside his sick friend, soon began to nod.
He roused himself, but he soon fell off to sleep again, such sound sleep that neither the jingle of the keys nor the sound of the locks, nor even the angelus bell, roused him awake.
All at once the clock struck twelve, and then the glover started and rubbed his eyes; he was stiff with cold, and he could not remember where he was. It was no longer dark, and as he opened his eyes, wide awake now, he saw standing before the altar a priest garbed in a black chasuble embroidered with a large white cross. The altar was draped in black, and two wax candles stood on it; by their pale light he saw on each candle a death's head and crossbones.
The glover was much surprised and deeply impressed by what seemed to him a funeral scene, but as he used to be more ready to help others than to think of himself, he soon remarked that there was no assistant present, and he went and knelt down before the priest to act as server.
As he knelt down, he glanced at the priest's face. Oh, horror! the priest was a skeleton with hollow eye-sockets and fleshless cheeks. The terrified glover fell senseless on the ground, and there he remained till the morning angelus bell roused him, and he went home to his family.
From this time he was a changed man. All the serene gaiety that had once characterised him disappeared, he became morose and silent even towards his wife, and he scarcely noticed his children. Above all things he dreaded sleep. As soon as it visited him he was filled with fear, horrible dreams and frightful nightmare soon banished sleep, and at length only the thought of bedtime filled him with dread.
At last, afraid that his reason was deserting him, he resolved to confide all to his spiritual guide, and he implored the good priest to shed, if possible, some peace into his soul.
"My son," said the priest, "Why should you fret and disturb your soul like this about something that perhaps is only a delusion? And if it is real, it had better be made a matter of serious inquiry. There is but one way, my son, watch in the same place and at the same hour to see what happens then."
"Oh no," cried the glover, "if fear the terror of it will destroy me."
"If you go to the chapel and trust in me," said the confessor "if the spectre reappears, bid it tell you why it comes."
That evening the glover went to the cathedral. He knelt before the altar in the same chapel, but he did not fall asleep; he heard the gates and doors lock, but he did not think. Instead he dreaded the midnight hour till it finally came.
The first stroke of midnight sounded, and at once the two candles on the altar lit of themselves. The altar was draped in black, and the skeleton priest in his black chasuble appeared on the threshold of the chapel.
"Stop!" cried the glover. "Why are you here?"
"Well," said the spectre in a stifled voice; "I am doomed to wait and suffer every night at this altar for long years until someone serves at a mass that I promised to say, and first neglected, and then forgot. You can now save two souls, his and mine."
He knelt down before the altar; the glover knelt beside him, and the mass of the dead was said. But as the priest uttered the words "depart in peace" he disappeared; and when the glover looked up, he saw through the window two broad rays of light going up heavenward.
The glover wiped his forehead, and then waited till the angelus bell sounded; then he returned to his family with his wonted happy smile, for his mind had recovered balance, and he had peace in his soul.