Vying to outrace each other, they spill over the bamboo fence and file in through the wicket gate. Numbering a dozen or so, they array themselves in the inner garden, facing the master. For the most part, they're without their jackets or vests. One, in a white shirt with rolled up sleeves, stands with his arms crossed. Another has a tattered cotton shirt slung over his shoulder. In contrast, another wears a white sailcloth shirt with black hems. Across the chest, in the same black color, his initials are artfully embroidered. They're a sturdy and stalwart bunch, each and every one. As if just in from Tanba, having clambered down from Sasayama the evening prior, they're tanned and muscular. It seemed a shame to send such lads to school for book work. From the looks of them, they'd serve their country better as fishermen or ferry pilots. All are barefoot with rolled up trouser legs, clearly the favored form for their sport, though they call to mind a fire brigade. They stand and eyd the master, uttering not a word. The master, too, is silent. Thus they remain for some time, sizing each other up with palpable animosity.
"What's this? An army of thieves?" The master takes the first swing. His nostils flare in anger, as though he's worked his spite into burning flame and is forcing it out through his nose. The nose of the Echigo Lion, that signature mask donned by street performers for show of ferocity, must be modeled on this very human nose. How else could it impart such fright to lookers on?
"We're not thieves. We're students from Rakuunkan."
"A likely story. Since when do Rakuunkan students steal into others' yards?"
"Look at our caps. That's the Rakuunkan insignia."
"Easily forged. If you're really students, then why the incursion?"
"Our ball flew over the fence."
"You launched it over the fence."
"That's just how it flew."