I had been living in Baker Street for about three weeks. The violin (a fine old instrument of Italian provenance) had been laying around our sitting room all that time, first here, then there, but I had never seen Sherlock's hands on it other than to generate squawks and squeals as a repellent against his brother Mycroft. Whenever my eyes were drawn by its russet glow, I remembered his question the day we met. Had he given me the chance I would have told him that I do not object to the violin when it is played well. I wondered when I would have the opportunity to judge whether his skill was up to my taste.
One late afternoon, I was upstairs in my room snatching a few hours' sleep between coming in from the surgery and going out to what Sherlock swore would be a quick search through the archives of a defunct newspaper. ("I need your eyes, John. You must come with me.")
I dreamt I was walking through a little park in the town where I grew up. The place was bombed to smithereens, but I walked along without fear or pity, skirting bits of debris and the fallen obelisk of the War Memorial. There was a melody coming from the ruins of the gazebo. Instead of a band, there was just one man, with his back to me. He was playing a violin. It struck me that the tune was familiar, but as I tried to think what it was, the dream slipped away and I awoke.
The music continued, though. I lay still, holding my breath, listening. The quality of the sound it made me sure it was Sherlock, though it was no violin piece I'd ever heard before. I still couldn't lay my finger on the tune, enfolded as it was in percussive bowing and mad, swooping harmonies. His skill was beyond doubt; in this as in all he did well he exhibited confidence bordering on arrogance.
One variation spun into another. Sometimes the theme was utterly obscured, only to roar back in phrases flung like punches. I was caught up in anticipation of what would happen next, how he would further bend the music to his will, what fresh twist he would wring from the instrument. Did he move with the sound, those black curls flying, or was he as disciplined in his technique as he was in his intellect? I pulled on my trousers and a shirt and crept down the stairs.
Sherlock stood facing the windows, his feet planted well apart, his head thrown back. His body swayed; he bent with an arpeggio, leaned back into sostenuto. There was a space, not empty but filled with scales that changed the key; they gave him room for thought, it seemed, and his arms relaxed until the violin was nearly at his waist as he played. Then he brought the instrument back up and barreled once again into the the main theme of the piece, his head jerking in sympathy with the notes. This time, among the ornament, I could follow the tune. I couldn't believe I hadn't recognized it. Before I could voice my surprise, though, he was off again, drawing the notes out with his whole body, pulling dissonance from harmony, finding possibilities and fresh leads as he went.
At last, the momentum of one particular run turned him toward me. He gave me a little smile and kept playing, but the wild impetuous quality of it was gone in favor of performing for his audience of one. After a few more bars he brought the music to a close.
"That was amazing."
"You always say that."
"Only when it's true. You really do play very well indeed, at least when Mycroft isn't here."
Sherlock shrugged. "It's a thing I can do that he can't--doing it badly when he knows I can do it well..."
I suppressed the urge to say, "Oh, grow up," in favor of asking him, "How long have you been working on that piece?"
He looked puzzled. "Working on it? Oh, I see. You could say that I'm always working on it. It's in the back of my mind all the time, spinning around."
"Why that? Why not 'Fur Elise' or something else familiar?"
"Oh, come on, John. What could be more familiar? It's Big Ben, after all."