He sat down by his wife, resting his elbows dashingly on his knees and ruffling his gray hair.
"What are your orders, little countess!"
"The thing is, my friend-- what's this stain you've got there?" she said, pointing to his waistcoat. "Must be the sauté," she added, smiling. "The thing is, Count, that I need money."
Her face grew sad.
"Ah, little countess!. . . "And the count began fussing, pulling out his wallet.
"I need a lot, Count, I need five hundred rubles." And, taking out a cambric handkerchief, she began rubbing her husband's waistcoat.
What so strikes me about this: the simple, intimate gesture that so economically conveys their relationship to each other and about money. Truly, here Tolstoy shows.
+ + +
On a separate note, this same chapter ends with a master stroke: having shown Anna Maikhailovna as a mouse-like schemer, Tolstoy now shows us her tearful gratitude at the Countess's gift:
"This is for Boris from me, to have his uniform made. . . "
Anna Mikhailovna was already embracing her and weeping. The countess was also weeping. They wept because they were friends; and because they were kind; and because they, who had been friends since childhood, were concerned with such a mean subject-- money; and because their youth was gone . . . But for both of them they were pleasant tears . . .
This flexibility of empathy-- the ability to show a character in an unattractive light, doing, saying, thinking unkind things-- but then turn (twist if need be) and show them as complex, deserving of compassion-- this, in my view, is what sets a writer above the level of mediocrity. It is easy to show a cardboard villain, but a tight-rope of a challenge to render a character's humanity.