Princess Petunia was beautiful in every way and was generally quite a sweet-tempered girl, but she had just one very, very stubborn flaw. She absolutely refused to take a bath. Her servants made the water hot, they made it cold, they made it just-right-in-the-middle-deliciously-warm, but still she wouldn’t go near it. Her maid added bubbles and pretty pink coloring so that the whole bath looked like a cotton candy cloud, but Princess Petunia just shook her head and got back in bed. Her mother offered her candy to take even one bath, but Princess Petunia just closed her eyes and shuddered. Her father said he would take away her pony if she didn’t bathe, but Princess Petunia just cried and cried and ran outside.
As time went on, Princess Petunia got dirtier and dirtier and smellier and smellier. She would play outside and take off her shoes and come in with feet all black from the earth, but never would she wash so much as her little toe. She would run and jump and climb in the trees until she was quite a sweaty mess, but never would her own smelliness offend her as much as the tiniest whiff of soap. She would accidentally get bits of food or drink in her hair, and they would stick there for as long as they felt like staying.
The king and queen were quite alarmed. Who ever heard of a princess who wouldn’t take a bath? How could she go to royal balls with blackened feet and bits of food in her hair? How could she greet the royal guests with dirt on her hands and smudges on her cheek? The king called in a royal doctor to study scientifically the causes of the problem. He asked Princess Petunia a great many important questions, but all she would say was, “Baths are icky. I will never take one.”
Was it the water she objected to, he asked, or the soap?
“Oh, by all means, the water,” said Princess Petunia. “Water is just too wet for me. And the soap is truly terrifying. It is just so sickeningly sudsy.”
Was she afraid of the water or just uncomfortable while in it?
“Oh yes, I’m very afraid,” Princess Petunia said calmly. “Water is so disgustingly wet, and I am quite uncomfortable with how fearfully wet it would make me.”
After many similar answers, the doctor gave up in a fit of impatience. “You’re daughter is impossible!” he shouted. “It is my professional opinion that she will never be persuaded to take a bath. You may as well give up now.”
The king was quite ready to take the doctor’s advice, but the queen called in an important fashion consultant to convince her daughter of the importance of being clean. The important consultant immediately began to create a beautiful new dress for Princess Petunia. Each time the princess came to be fitted for her dress, the important consultant was horrified by her dirtiness and gave her long lectures. On the final fitting, Princess Petunia had such filthy hands that the important consultant actually fainted from horror and when he came back to himself and saw Princess Petunia touching the elegant dress with those terrible hands, he ran screaming from the castle and was never seen again.
The king and queen despaired. Without telling anyone, the king began to make preparations to hide Princess Petunia away in the corner tower where no one would be able to smell her.
But her maid still had one idea. She also did not tell anyone, but one night she went to visit her wise old grandmother and told her all about the very smelly princess. The wise old grandmother said they should leave it all up to her.
The next day when Princess Petunia was running through the woods, she came across a pool of water. Normally, she ran right around the pool and never got close at all, but today she saw something strange. There was an old woman splashing in the pool and laughing like a little girl. Princess Petunia stopped and stared.
“Who are you?” she asked, “and what are you doing in that horrible pool?”
“Who I am is none of your business,” said the old woman rather rudely, “and I should think any stupid little girl could see what I am doing.” She continued to splash and laugh and squirt water up into the tree branches above her.
Princess Petunia watched for a minute. “I do not think I am a stupid little girl,” she said finally, “but I do not see what you are doing.”
The old woman laughed. “I am having fun,” she said. “If you can’t see that then you are more stupid than you think.”
“How can you be having fun in the water?” asked Princess Petunia. “Isn’t it just like a horrid big bath?”
“Oh no,” said the old woman. “It is not at all like a bath. Do you see a bath tub? Do you see a bathroom? Of course not. If you think this is like a bath, you must really be quite a stupid little girl.”
“I am NOT stupid,” said Princess Petunia. “I just don’t see how you can laugh when you are in all that very wet water.”
“Come in and you will see,” said the old woman.
“Oh no, oh no,” said Princess Petunia. “I could never. I hate the wet, wet water.”
“Suit yourself,” said the old woman, and she went back to her splashing and laughing.
Princess Petunia watched for a long while. Finally she said, “And you’re sure it’s really nothing like a bath?”
The old woman rolled her eyes. “We are in the forest. What do you think?”
Taking a deep breath, Princess Petunia ran straight into the water. In no time at all, she was splashing and laughing right along with the old woman. The old woman showed her how to dip all the way under the water and open her eyes and look for shiny rocks on the bottom of the pool. Princess Petunia thought that was great fun. Then the old woman produced a bar of soap and began to toss it back and forth. Princess Petunia was so busy playing catch that she didn’t notice the bubbles all around her. At last, when she was quite clean but still didn’t know it, the old woman said it was time to go home. When Princess Petunia got out of the pool, she noticed the most lovely smell.
“What is that wonderful fragrance?” she asked, looking all around for flowers.
“It’s you, Princess,” said the old woman with a grin.
“Me?!” said Princess Petunia, looking down at her now clean clothes and hair and hands and feet. “What kind of magic is this that makes me smell like a flower and look all white and shiny?”
“It’s the magic of a bath,” said the old woman. “You’ve just had your very first one.”
“But you said…” stuttered Princess Petunia. “But I thought…”
“Exactly,” said the old woman, handing the princess the bar of soap.
And after that, Princess Petunia was always the first to jump into the bath on bath day, though she often insisted on doing it outside in the forest pool. Her parents thought this very odd, but they were so happy to have a daughter that smelled like a flower instead of a rotten fish that they let her do just as she liked.