At the farthest end of the hedge loom three ancient willow stumps, like monster mushrooms springing from the ground.

For more than a century they have been regularly clipped, a process which has given them weirdly distorted heads. In each of their bowl-shaped tops is ample room for a couple of men.

Black ants live in the trunks beneath, and form paths up the furrowed, moss-covered bark; on the wind-dried branches and along the withered twigs the male ants assemble in swarming-time, giving the group of ancient trees an extraordinarily lifelike appearance.

But spiders spin their webs from every knot and curve, and in them ant corpses hang thickly in bunches. In one stump a redstart has built its nest; in another, which is big and full of touchwood, grow burdocks, mugworts, and nettles.

The old willow stumps are never at rest. . . . Hairy, yellow-speckled willow-moths wander all over them from top to root, devouring the leaves, until, later in the summer, only the stalks are left—then they spin their cocoons, and one day rise on their soft white wings to desert the stripped, maltreated larva-trees, the ground beneath carpeted with their filth.

The central stump, the one with fat, crooked stem, is hollow right down to the bottom.

Outside the entrance to the hole—a split in the top of the head—grows a large, thick gooseberry bush, which gives shelter from the wind and rain, and serves as a perfect door. Once upon a time the bush must have flown up here as a seed; now it has developed a long, thick aerial-root which runs down inside, clinging to the wooden wall until it reaches its mouldering base.

In the thorny branches a linnet has built its circular, down-lined nest—and here the bird has been sitting fearlessly for eight days and nights without caring in the least about the old grey cat, which at this very moment is squeezing its way through the narrow entrance.