Miss Wychwood's touch was wispy and uncertain, but it was indeed palpable. Alice could not believe her delight in having her friend even this slight bit tangible. It was so wonderful to feel the affection of a friend, one whose words and advice had already proved a comfort.
"Judith, my dearest friend," Alice said, tears filling her eyes. "How delightful to feel your hands in mine." She took her friend's hands between her own as if to demonstrate the delight.
"Oh Alice, it has been so long!" Judith cried ghostly tears of joy and relief. "I do not feel quite so bereft now."
"It must have been awful for you," Alice said with feeling. "I do not know how you had the courage to manage."
Judith blinked her tears away and smiled. "You are so very kind, Alice, dear. I'm sure you would have figured out the secret much sooner."
"It was the crisis," Alice said, nodding her head sagely. It was the first time she had been able to carry off such a gesture. She was certain it improved her appearance markedly. "Under extraordinary circumstances, one is able to accomplish remarkable feats." Alice worried that her tone sounded entirely too brash and softened the statement by adding, "I believe my cousin Lizzie once told me that."
"Alice, I am quite certain you are correct," Miss Wychwood cried, doubtless impressed whatever the source of the knowledge. "What shall we do now?"
Alice looked around them with a sense of mild alarm. The balcony had been their goal, but now that they had achieved it, what were they to do? Alice looked carefully at the French doors that led to the balcony. It was entirely possible that they would be locked. "We need to get inside again," Alice said, her voice losing a bit of cheeriness as the difficulty of doing so squashed her confidence a bit.
"Do you suppose it is locked?" Miss Wychwood inquired, anticipating Alice's own thoughts.
"We can but try," Alice said with a confidence she did not feel. She stepped forward and tried the handle. It proved immobile. Oh dear, Alice thought. This did not bode well. Alice leaned down to peer in the keyhole, but it was too dark to see anything.
"Perhaps I can pop inside and see if there is a key in the lock," Judith suggested.
"Excellent," Alice said, but there was not much hope in her voice. If there were a key, it would nonetheless be on the wrong side of the door.
"The key is here," Miss Wychood's muffled voice announced.
Alice perked up. "Can you turn it?"
Judith's face lit up with excitement. "Let me see!" She bent at once to her task, concentrating on grasping the key with her ethereal fingers. Her brow furrowed with concentration, but she did not seem to be able to get a firm grip in the key. Doubtless it had sat idle in its place for some time.
Alice felt her hope sinking. There was a sudden clatter and the key fell to the floor.
"Oh dear!" Miss Wychwood said, her dismay apparent in both her voice and her face.
Alice had a flash of inspiration. "Judith, dear, can you push the key under the door?"
Judith clapped her hands together. "I believe so." With stately grace, she leaned down and pushed away at the rusty key. Gradually it inched its way under the door until the teeth poked through where Alice's eager fingers could grip it. With a flourish, she brandished the key and set it to the lock. After a moment's hesitation, the key turned with a click and Alice was able to pull the door open.
"Oh Alice!" Miss Wychwood cried and the two confederates embraced happily once more.