"Being the oldest in a large family was in many ways a blessing, in other ways it could be a burden. For one thing it meant I gave up earlier some of the carefree and irresponsible joys of being young. It wasn't until I was spending some extra time at home during a break between semesters that I realised that I was not only being big brother to my own family but to the world at large".
John-Boy finishes writing in his journal when he hears Ben hammering in his room. He is putting up shelves, where upon John-Boy makes a few suggestions. Ben ignores those suggestions, as he whistles. Outside Jim Bob is throwing at a duck model that he had spent hours carving. He had given it to Eunice Margaret, who laughed at it. John and Grandpa drive up announcing that a half million dollar contract is being awarded at Newport News, Virginia, and John is driving there to get a lumber order. John-Boy suggests to Jim Bob that he wait and give the model to his next girlfriend. Grandma warns John that it is a port city, full of dangers to a country boy. John suggests that Olivia goes with him, and she agrees. John asks Jim Bob why is acting so quiet, but Jim Bob doesn’t say much.
In town, a girl carries her suitcase away from Sheriff Bridges. She sits on the floorboard of John-Boy’s car. John, Olivia, and John-Boy talk with Ep as the bus pulls up to the White Arrow Bus Station. John-Boy says he’ll pick them up on Thursday at 5:30 pm. Suddenly a burgular alarm is heard at Delilah Milhouse’s home. Ep runs to the alarm. John-Boy finds Bridget Maloney (whose nickname is Muffin) at his car. She says she is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She is expecting her mother to be on the bus. She and her mother are running away from Mr. Hapwell, her stepfather. He is hurting her mother, and is very strict with her. Her mother had put her on the bus yesterday, and she is suppose to meet her mother today so they can go to Raleigh, North Carolina where her Aunt Claudie lives. When John-Boy says they should go to the sheriff, but Muffin says her stepfather has already gone to the police and doesn’t want him to find them. John-Boy volunteers to help her, and return her tomorrow to the bus station after a good meal and a place to sleep. The family questions her as she eats milk, bread, and jelly. Grandma makes the children go off so Muffin can eat in peace. From a distance, Grandpa watches as she throws her meal down to her plate after the family leaves. On the front porch, the family discusses her predicament, but Grandpa thinks she is a runaway, unsure about the look in her eye. When they come back Muffin is snapping beans. Grandpa adds that the family wants her to stay “for the night”.
In the barn, Muffin looks in her suitcase. John-Boy says that they have a cot ready for her in the girl’s room. She thanks him for worrying about her. She thinks of John-Boy as her big brother, saying she grew up alone. John and Olivia dance in their room to music coming from the Silver Slipper dance hall. He wonders what the ladies of the Baptist Church will say when they go off dancing in the middle of the night. In the morning, Grandpa and Grandma share breakfast as the children walk downstairs. Grandma will miss Muffin who has helped with the chores without being asked. Grandpa quizzes her about her destination and her origin, but she correctly answers the questions. Grandma thinks that the look in her eyes is from someone who is “older than time”. John-Boy takes Muffin in his car, as the children say good-bye to her. Jim Bob and Muffin say good-bye, with fondness in their voices.
At the bus station, they find that her mother is not on the bus. Muffin looks disappointed, thinking she can hitchhike to Raleigh. John-Boy decides he’ll go down to the sheriff but won’t mention her or her mother. On the way to Ep’s office he runs into the Baldwin sisters. They drove to town to see a friend after awakening an hour early. Muffin creeps around a corner. John-Boy asks Ep for any missing children reports, or anything that might involve a girl of Muffin’ age. As the sisters walk along the street they run into Muffin (not by accident). She says she spent her last two dollars for medicine for her brother. The Baldwin sisters say they will give her the two dollars for more medicine. Muffin says, “God bless you.” But, after they leave, she pockets the money.
While John-Boy is in the jailhouse talking with Ep, he sees a man behind bars. Sheriff Bridges says he is called Nifty, a con-man and second-rate swindler. Nifty says he is innocent. After John-Boy leaves Nifty asks Ep he if would like to play cards. Ep responds that he would rather play solitaire; at least he would have a chance to win. John-Boy finds that Muffin and her suitcase are gone. Back at the jail, Muffin shows up to say that her Sunday School class made cookies for unfortunate people. Inside she sings religious songs, but under her breathe talks quietly to her grandfather. He says she needs to raise twenty-five dollars to make bail. Muffin responses to his need, saying she has raised half of it through a family who is an easy mark.
As John-Boy drives out of town, Muffin is found walking (not accidentally) along the street. Of course, he stops for her. She says she can’t ask him and his family to do more for her. John-Boy decides that they will raise the money she needs in order to send her to Raleigh. At supper, Grandma asks Muffin to say the blessing. Grandpa looks on in suspicion. After saying grace Muffin looks at Grandpa and he cautiously looks back. The girls talk about what they can do to raise money. Elizabeth starts to open Muffin’s suitcase but Muffin comes over and yells at her to stop. She explains that all that she owns is inside the suitcase. Muffin asks Elizabeth to forgive her for yelling. They still are friends.
Grandma counts coins for a total of one dollar and a half from her egg money. Jim Bob has twenty-seven cents. John-Boy has a dollar. Mary Ellen goes to Ike along with Jim Bob, Elizabeth, and Muffin, to sell her walnuts. Muffin shows Ike a ring that (she says) her Grandmother gave her. It’s an amethyst ring, which is Corabeth’s birthstone. Mary Ellen states a ring like that should go for ten dollars, but Muffin bargains down to seven fifty. As Ike looks at the ring, Muffin spills the walnuts. Now Muffin finds that the stone has separated from the band. Ike agrees to buy the ring after Muffin says she needs the money for bus fare. She thanks Ike. But, Ike can’t find the stone, after looking everywhere.
Jim Bob gives Muffin his model duck. She thinks it is beautiful. She gives him a kiss. Grandma makes Muffin food for the long bus trip. As they talk on the front porch the Baldwin sisters drive up. They have heard from Mr. Godsey the effort to reunite a little girl and her mother. They want to help. Then, Muffin exits the house. They are confused after seeing the girl who needed medicine for her baby brother. Muffin runs off, with John-Boy in hot pursuit. The family looks confused. John-Boy eventually catches Muffin. She shows her true colors, saying she tells people what they want to hear and gets a few dollars, too. John-Boy says he will take her to the sheriff.
The family learns all of what she has done. Jim Bob says he still likes her just as much. Muffin says she likes him, too. She tries to get him to take her to Rockfish, by saying “if you like me”. She asks for a drink of water, and while drinking it Jim Bob hops into the rumble seat of John-Boy’s car. Grandpa says, “So you still think you know all the answers.” Grandma admits to Grandpa that he had Muffin figured out all the time. John-Boy goes inside to talk to Sheriff Bridges. Muffin talks with Jim Bob and asks him to go to Delilah Milhouse’s home and set off her alarm. Ep looks at all the con artist supplies she has in her suitcase. Ep says it’s a professional bunko artist kit. He remembers her passing off cookies earlier. Suddenly the alarm goes off and he puts her into jail while he investigates. John-Boy greets his mother and father at the bus station. He has gotten a contract. They see Jim Bob walking with the sheriff and see Nifty and Muffin driving out of town with John-Boy’s car. They find the car abandoned outside of town, with a flat tire. Ep goes further on to check if they are on the road, but thinks they are in the next county by now. John sees the model duck and John says that it looks like Jim Bob has found another loser. They change the tire.
"You would expect that after such an experience I would have given up trying to be a big brother to everyone I met. I did for a while, but it wasn't long until I had lapsed back into the comfortable and familiar role I had learned to play. In fact, I suspect that even today, if I found Muffin Maloney sitting on my running-board, I might say - Hi there, you look like you need a friend.... ".
John-Boy: Yes, Ben?
Ben: You know those shelves I put up? They all fell down.
John-Boy: Is that so?
Ben: I wish I'd listened to you.
John-Boy: Wider supports, 8 penny nails.
Ben: Well they'd probably would have fallen down anyway. At least it would have been your fault!
John-Boy (chuckles): Goodnight Ben.
Elizabeth is ten years old.
It’s a break between college semesters for John-Boy.
Ike (Joe Conley); Miss Emily & Miss Mamie Baldwin (Mary Jackson & Helen Kleeb); Sheriff Bridges (John Crawford); Bridget “Muffin” Maloney (Vicky Schreck); Nifty Mulligan (Bert Conway).