This folktale of "Comeacross" (abw nyyh) and "Doublecross" (abw nyytyn) is included in a small pamphlet which also contains the story of Nahum of Gimzo from the Babylonian Talmud, Ta`anith, 21a. The book was probably printed in Bagdad in the early years of the twentieth century, since the language is Iraqi, and the heroes make a trip to Syria which appears to be somewhat distant.
The tale demonstrates that generosity and piety are rewarded, while stinginess and fraud are punished. We are told that Comeacross shares his provisions for a journey (the purpose of which is unclear) with Doublecross, who dumps him in a well in return for his generosity. While there, Comeacross overhears two animals talking. They share their secrets, one describing how he plans to cure the local princess, who is sick, and the other stating where buried treasure is hidden. Comeacross is rescued by some passers by, cures the princess and marries her, and carts off the treasure. Doublecross turns up at the palace not knowing who Comeacross is, thinking he can trick him in some way. Comeacross reveals himself to Doublecross, and generously forgives him, warning him to stay away from the well. On the bad advice of his wife, Doublecross returns to the well, in the hope of duplicating Comeacross's luck. The animals come back, accusing each other of revealing secrets. Doublecross unintentionally reveals his whereabouts by sneezing, whereupon the animals devour him, and fill up the well with stones. Fortunately for us readers, Doublecross had written down this remarkable sequence of events shortly before his untimely death.
Jewish elements are almost totally lacking in the story, the only exception being a Hebrew phrase yishtabah shemo used by the King when praising God, and perhaps the reference to Joseph in the well, which could equally well be Muslim.
Overhearing secrets of animals from a hiding place is a theme found elsewhere in folk literature. Stith Thompson documents this in his Index of Folk Literature, section N451.1. Central to the story is the feature of the well. It is a possible source of both death and life, just as it was to Joseph, and signals in the popular imagination the essential ambiguity of stages in man's journey. They may be good or ill, as man's own genius makes them. The clear moral of the story is that it is better to be generous than stingy, forgiving than evil-intentioned. The good are rewarded, the evil punished. As Li'l Abner once said in deathless verse of one whose sin was slander and met a similar fate:
He tried to be a heel,
So he hended hup a meal.
When silence was suggested,
He refused, and was digested.
In March, 2005 "Autumn" wrote to me to point out that a similar myth is quoted on a site apparently intended to help high school students write papers. Thanks to Autumn for this. You can check out this parallel here but you should be aware that the original site referenced there is loaded with pop-ups.
There was a certain man whose name was Comeacross. At a certain time on a certain day, he had a great desire to travel and tour the land of Syria, so he took with him two bottles of water and a loaf of bread. He walked in the desert for a period of two and a half hours, and a certain man met him whose name was Doublecross. This Doublecross was carrying with him two loaves of bread and a bottle of water. They went along the road together. Doublecross said to Comeacross: "Salaam aleykum. Where are you going?" He answered: "I am going to travel in the land of Syria." Doublecross said: "I will go with you. I have this bottle of water and two loaves of bread. Let us live on them, and walk along the road together until we reach the land of Syria. They walked for two days and two nights. Whenever they were thirsty, they drank from Comeacross's bottle, and whenever they were hungry they ate from Comeacross's loaf, until Comeacross's bottle of water and bread were all used up. They walked for two hours, and Comeacross said to Doublecross: "Undo your bottle, and give me a little water to drink." He said to him: After we have gone most of the way, we will finish this bottle and slake our thirst." Every time Comeacross would ask, Doublecross would say: "just a minute" or "in a little while." A day and a night passed, and he would only agree to give a little water to Comeacross when his tongue was swollen from thirst. But Doublecross cheated Comeacross, and whenever he himself was thirsty, he undid his bottle and drank.
Meanwhile they walked on, and saw a deep well full of water. Doublecross said to Comeacross: "Come on, I will let you down by the rope. Go down and fill your bottles." So Doublecross tied Comeacross with the rope and let him down into the well. Thereupon Doublecross cut the rope, and Comeacross landed up in the well. He said: "O God, praised and exalted, thou canst raise me up as thou raisedst up Joseph the righteous man from the well." And he wept bitterly.
At night, the lion and the fox came, and sat down at the well, and stayed talking to each other. The lion spoke up, and said to the fox: "I have great good fortune. For the beautiful and noble daughter of the king beseeches her father nightly. She is the king's only child, but he cannot solve her problem, although she is very precious to him. You see, on a certain day, the princess went mad, and became foolish, and the crier is proclaiming in the neighborhood: 'Anyone who treats the king's daughter, and makes known her cure, will take one half of the king's fortune in accordance with her lineage.' After five days I shall go and treat her, and will marry the king's daughter, and become his son-in-law, and take half of the king's fortune."
The fox spoke up and said to the lion: "How will you treat her?" He replied: "I shall take her to the baths, and perfume her with such-and-such an aromatic herb, and she will be cured and like she was formerly." The fox spoke up and said to the lion: "There is no good fortune like mine. " He replied: "How so?" He said: "I have fourteen jars of gold, and all that you could possibly want is to be found five paces from this well." Then each of them went back to his place.
Comeacross waited until morning. Some ass-drivers came to the well to draw water, so he called to them, and they took him out. He went to the district where the king's daughter lived. He saw that the crier was shouting: "Anybody who can treat the king's daughter, and make known her cure, will take one half of the king's fortune, and the king will give him his daughter." So he went to the crier, and said to him: "Crier, how long has she been like this?" He said: "A period of five months, and no one has been able to make known her cure and treat her." He said: "With the help of the exalted God, I will treat her right now."
The crier did not even consider if he was telling the truth or not, but he took him right away and conducted him to the king's palace and told him: "This man will treat your daughter." The king said to Comeacross: "Can you really treat my daughter?" He replied: "With the help of the praised and exalted God, I can treat her." He said: "Go, and God be with you, and if God wills, you will cure her, and may your hands upon her be blessed." He went and took her, and led her to the baths, and he did everything he had heard from the fox, and perfumed her in the bath and brought her up, and she was better than before. And he said: "Blessed be God, for I have made manifest her cure." He married her, and celebrated the wedding for seven days and seven nights, and took half of the king's fortune.
After some days, he went and brought twenty-one porters, and set off and took them to the well in the place where Doublecross had left him, and they came and dug up the jars, and brought them before his father-in-law. When his father-in-law saw them, he was greatly astonished on account of what they had brought from the well. He said to him : "In all my dominions I do not have a single jar full of gold. Where did you get it all from.?" He told him the story. He said: "Glory be! Who would have thought of such a thing?"
One day the king and Comeacross were sitting in the palace, when Doublecross came and made obeisance to the vizier. He was hoping to take advantage of Comeacross. When he came to the palace, he did not recognize Comeacross, but Comeacross recognized him. Doublecross approached Comeacross. Comeacross said to him: "Do you know who I am? I am Comeacross, whom you put in the well." Doublecross did not even consider whether it was true or not, but his happy face changed to the face of death, and he showed the whites of his eyes, and his bowels moved from fright, and he began to tremble. He said: "May God protect me." Then Comeacross said to Doublecross that he deserved death, did he not pity him. And he further said to him: "You did not fear God, may he be praised and exalted, and you do not know what is right and proper in the world. You betrayed me, but I survived your wiles. Now go, and God be with you. But this warning I give you. Be careful not to go and jump into the well, for if you do, you will greatly regret it."
Doublecross went to his house distressed and weeping, saying: "How did it happen to me that he was able to laugh at my condition? There is neither escape nor exemption from the chastisement of God." His wife spoke up and said to him: "Since this has happened, go to the well and jump in. Perhaps God will show you something good about that well." So Doublecross left, and went to the desert, and there he searched around for a while, five days and five nights, until he found the well and went down it. When evening came, he had not eaten or drunk, and was dying of hunger. At midnight, the lion and the fox came, and began to fight with each other. The lion spoke up and said to the fox: "I revealed to you my secret, and told you about the king's daughter. How could you go and cure her and take half the king's fortune and bury it in some other place?" The fox spoke up and said to the lion: "By your life, and the life of your head, you fool, I haven't a clue!" But I revealed to you my secret, and told you that I had fourteen jars of gold, and you went and took the jars, and hid them in another place." So one talked, and the other talked, and they fought for three hours. Meanwhile Doublecross was hiding in the well. Then he could not suppress a sneeze. The lion and the fox came to the well to eat him. Then they took stones and dirt and filled the well with the stones. So Doublecross died, and they both went home.
Then Doublecross, before he died, wrote down what had happened to him from beginning to end. So he saw it, and so it occurred.