This whole chapter is basically one long joke at Nikolai’s expense. Check it out.
Nikolai decides to figure out the deal with the family money and demands a “full accounting” from the estate manager, Mitenka (188.8.131.52).
Hilariously, he has no idea what a full accounting would even be. But you know, he’s lord of his castle and all that, so after ten minutes he starts yelling and cursing at Mitenka and finally just throws the man out of the house. Which is his right, since Mitenka is a serf.
His mom overhears this and is happy that Nikolai is figuring stuff out.
But then the next day, Count Rostov is all, um, did you throw Mitenka out of the house over 700 rubles that he didn’t write down? Because he did write them down, on the reverse page of the ledger.
See, Nikolai has no idea about accounting. Like, seriously, just zero. So what can he do when he is entirely reliant on this Mitenka for all of the estate management? All he can do is be a violent moron, throwing his weight around – but in reality, he has no power over his own or the family’s money.
Why is this funny? Well, because in theory, the Rostovs are extremely powerful people with a big chunk of land, lots of serfs, and some political power. Also, in theory, they are well educated. But in reality, they are totally unable to deal with their financial lives and are in the hands of whoever is doing their accounting. Is Mitenka really stealing from them? They’ll never know, and honestly it doesn’t really even matter.
Anyway, how does Nikolai’s little adventure into the accounting world end? With Mitenka back doing all of it and Nikolai staying out of the business end of things altogether.