Ned Higgins is a local neighborhood boy who gets into the novel for only one reason: he is the first customer at Hepzibah's dusty little store. In a sequence of several chapters, Ned Higgins buys all of Hepzibah's gingerbread animals – elephants, camels, crocodiles, what have you. This gives the novel one of its only running jokes, since Hawthorne is generally a pretty serious guy.
Ned Higgins is also the boy who warns Phoebe not to go into the (mostly) empty House of the Seven Gables once she returns from her vacation because there is "something wicked there!" (19.57). Little does he know what's actually in there: Judge Pyncheon's dead body and Mr. Holgrave waiting to propose to Phoebe. As a reward for being her first customer, Hepzibah gives Ned Higgins some silver as the remaining Pyncheons head out of the House of the Seven Gables to a happier home at the end of Chapter 21.