While taking his parents to the bus station so they can go to Newport News for a lumber contract, John-Boy chances upon Muffin Maloney, a waifish-looking 12-year-old girl who claims she is waiting for her mother to meet up with her – they had both run away from her mean stepfather in Lancaster, PA. When the mother never arrives, he takes the girl in to meet and stay with the other Waltons. Everyone is instantly beguiled by the child - everyone except Grandpa, whose sixth sense warms him to be distrustful. Later, the audience affirms his suspicions when Muffin goes to her grandfather in the county jail and finds that he needs twelve dollars bail to be released money the girl raises under the auspice of needing bus fare to go back home. She almost gets away with it, until the Baldwin sisters come to the house and recognize her from a previous scheme. John-Boy chases her down and escorts her to see Sheriff Bridges, but she uses Jim-Bob as a stool pigeon to distract the lawman so she and her grandfather can escape the cell, and flee using John-Boy’s car. When they get flat, they hoof it to the next county, leaving everyone feeling gullible for being taken in so easily.
The writers have certainly crafted a real imp here – the slickest juvenile con artist since the Artful Dodger, although her success owes just as much to the frustrating gullibility of her victims. Due also to the time period, one can’t help be reminded of The Sting, and perhaps the producers made this intentional with the raggy, precocious score. Vicky Schreck plays crafty well as Muffin, and perhaps her escape and the end opens the door for a return to Waltons Mountain.
Quibble: show is mistitled – it refers only to the girl’s ruse of buttering up John-Boy by calling him the brother she never had –as well as a very marginal sideline in which Ben and Jim Bob learn to trust him more often. But that’s not the crux of this story; maybe calling it “The Con Artist” would spoil the twist too early.